by Steve Joos
What would happen if you were accidentally reconnected with a lost love?
|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.
“What are you going to do today?” Leslie asked as Richard munched on cereal and fruit.
“I thought I might go into Chicago,” was the reply. “I’d kind of like to go through the new broadcasting museum.”
Vacations had always been something of a saving grace for Richard, three months away (more or less) from a teaching job which had become as depressing as it was rewarding.
He loved sharing his knowledge of history and government with his middle school students, but the school culture was starting to affect him emotionally. Richard was known as Mr. Undertaker for the way he approached his eighth grade students’ transition to Groveland High, which while considerably smaller than Baylor Heights during Richard’s school days, was still a high school and one which shared a conference with the fortress of evil at the intersection of College Avenue and Northwoods Road in Baylor Heights.
Groveland also had a big school mentality, which was a source of flashbacks for the owlish young educator, who took well to teaching, but not the social aspects of the job, even if he was at the junior high.
You knew when high school orientation was scheduled because Mr. Davidson seemed to act like his charges were all the doomed, crossing the yard to their executions. When the last day of classes neared, Richard would stop the partying momentarily and have has class form two lines and then shake hands with each other and say goodbye, no matter how they got along during the year. He’d actually gotten in trouble for helping the class lovebirds exchange contact information so they could stay in touch over the summer one year.
He would work sporting events with little trouble, but dances? Not so much.
Why did he feel this way? Richard had never been happy in school, but between a need to support himself while trying to be a writer and a lack of opportunities for history buffs landed him in a classroom. He loved the kids he taught, but the baggage from Huff, Cimarron and Baylor Heights was sometimes too much to bear, especially when it was repeated by a different, more contemporary group at Groveland.
But most of all, it was because Richard could look out at his classes and still see himself in the back of Mr. Dewitt’s social studies room at Cimarron, winking at Melanie Beck. She’d blink back at him.
Melanie had been just another girl in Richard’s class until the day he slapped goofy nicknames on her and her best friend, Patty Williams. Midway through that fateful Wednesday, their eyes met and Richard dropped an eyelid in her direction. She smiled and a brief but beautiful story began. Richard had been reliving it ever since, wishing that somehow things would have been different and that Melanie Beck would today be Mrs. Richard Davidson.
Richard’s less-than-sunny attitude towards high school got to be too much two years earlier and he found himself looking for a different line of work. Enter Junction City Press, a small publisher of children’s books, where he had just been promoted to junior editor. No, Richard didn’t have any children of his own, but he had two nephews and a niece, along with two former classmates in the front office.
A few hours earlier in an apartment not far from the Norris residence, a woman about Richard’s age with short dark hair twice slammed on the sleep switch of her clock radio.
“Shut up Wally!” Melanie Beck growled at the radio. “I don’t care how wonderful people are. I just want to roll back over and sleep!”
She methodically prepared for another day of sifting through insurance claims while working to help computerize the Great North Central Insurance Company after it relocated to Chicago from downstate.
For Melanie, life had been an adventure—sort of. She followed her older brother into the Navy and learned how to be a computer technician, which paid off when she returned to civilian life.
On the other hand, she had to scramble to make a commuter train each morning and ride into the big city, where she became lost in one of those windows on the upper floors of a Loop office building.
“I mistered out of the Navy for this? “ She thought to herself while hitting the drive through for a cup of coffee.
Melanie had even soured on ex-athletes and sailors after her last two relationships, one of them with an old BHHS grappler from her graduating class. Both guys left her for younger, more attractive women. Oh and yes, she was seeing another coach, only this one was in the Army.
Talk about lowering your standards.
So here she was, a single girl trying to make it in the big city, quickly maneuvering her blue Honda Civic into a parking spot at the downtown Elgin METRA station.
It was close to noon when Richard pulled his white Mercury into a spot right next to the Civic. Camera case in hand, with his wallet in his front shirt pocket on advice from his sister, he entered the station, bought his ticket and like an adolescent traveling alone for the first time, took the train into the City of the Big Shoulders.
As he rode the train into the Windy City, Richard reminisced a bit about how he went from teaching to editing manuscripts about a much more idyllic childhoods than his. Linda Heinie first recognized him, then showed him to an adjoining cubicle.
“Hey Laurie!” she exclaimed to a slight blonde-haired woman working there. “Do you remember Rick Davidson? Rick, this is Laurie Springer, one of our bookkeepers. Do you remember Rick from school? Now we’ve got an editorial assistant for historical books!”
Richard smiled meekly as he thought about how his current job started, then returned to his regrets, mixed with concerns over how he was going to get to the museum and how he was going to get back.
And he thought about Melanie.
Watching people board and depart the train, observing husbands and wives saying goodbye as they went about their daily tasks, he thought about her. He had chances to catch up before, but passed. Hearing about her fantastic husband and wonderful kids would be too much for Richard to bear.
Everybody else has moved on, he thought. Why can’t I?
He had some fun jawing with some younger passengers on the train about baseball and enjoyed looking at some of the old radio and television memorabilia, even if in some ways it struck another nerve.
Teaching and book editing weren’t his main career choices, they were what was available to a would-be mystery writer with a journalism degree and limited contacts in the media. Among the old wire machines, Charlie McCarthy radios and dolls were dreams that a good-paying job really couldn’t replace.
Richard had about as much fun as a single man could have, He sprang back out of Jack Benny’s vault when the recording of the alarm went off and then acted like the contents of Fiber McGee’s closet came crashing out on him, all the while mimicking the old time radio stars and sportscasters to himself while watching old videos of a baseball game.
The Cubs no-hit the Cardinals. That figured.
While Richard juggled the wonders of the Broadcast Museum with his bittersweet reflections on his life and lack of romance, Melanie was saddled with more contemporary challenges, trying to computerize a small property insurance company while also trying to plan some sort of weekend.
"Hi Mapes, what’s up?” she asked with sense of exasperation while taking a phone call from her roommate. “What? Gary called and what? No, don’t bother. I was going to try and work on arrangements later this afternoon, but I guess I won’t have to worry about that now. I’ll talk to you later. Bye.”
She slammed the phone back down on the receiver. Men, she growled inside.
At 4:30, she packed up and left for the day. At about the same time, Richard bought three bags of peanut M&Ms for his sister’s children (well, two of them), finished his late lunch at McDonald’s and headed for the State Street bus stop.
Where he immediately became confused trying to find the Union Station bus.
Back and forth he went, nearly going into one large department store in search of someone who might be able to help him find the right bus. As he lurched down State Street, going as far as Carson’s Department Store, Richard began to fear being stranded in Chicago overnight, with only his camera case. Back up the street he ran.
Finally, he made eye contact with a dark-haired woman heading for the bus stop.
"Uh, um m’am,” he said.
“What?” Melanie snapped.
“Would you know where the Union Station bus stops?”
There was only one seat available on the bus, so Richard naturally offered it to the lady. The two remained companions to the station and then in the mad dash to a commuter train. Melanie plopped down in the first available seat and found herself—facing Richard, who had also sat down.
“I hope I’m not scaring you,” he said. “I wanted to thank you for helping me find my bus and this seat was available.”
“No problem,” Melanie replied, a bit taken aback by Richard’s manners. “No problem at all. They have a bit of a bar here in this car. Can I get you anything?”
“A diet Coke, if you would please.”
The two struck up a casual conversation, with Richard snapping a picture of the Merchandise Mart as the train shot past it. He hoped she wouldn’t notice him checking her hands. Two or three rings, but no wedding band or engagement ring. Richard tried to hide his relief, not knowing that Melanie had been looking at his hands, hoping he wasn’t taken.
The evening shadows had almost completed covered the Elgin METRA station when Richard and Melanie's train pulled in. The newly-introduced pair began a deliberate journey through the parking lot, not noticing the proximity of their cars to each other. Upon seeing where the Honda and Mercury were left, they laughed a bit and nervously entered their respective vehicles.
"Could I, um, buy you a drink?" Melanie asked nervously. "Or maybe interest you in a late dinner? It's almost eight o'clock and I doubt if your sister would want to cook anything now."
"Well, it may be a little later," Richard replied with equal uncertainty. "You may have to sit through Curious George, but I wouldn't mind."
"OK." Melanie answered with a blush. "OK. Could I tag along?"
After Richard helped out his niece and nephews to bed with a story, he and his new friend snuck off for a late dinner.
"Your sister's kids love you," Melanie chuckled. "They called you Uncle Rick?"
"That's my name," Richard said. "It was kind of strange with you too. My sister was a bit shocked to see me show up with a woman, especially one that I just met and hadn't been introduced to. Thanks for introducing yourself uh,"
"Mel. Mel Lynn."
They retreated to a nearby restaurant by the Fox River with a slightly romantic atmosphere for their late supper after Richard’s brother-in-law warned them not to stay out too late.
“So, what do you do for a living?" asked Melanie.
"I think we established on the train," Richard said. "I'm a vacationing book editor from Baylor Heights, while you were in the Navy and now you're a computer technician who lives in Elgin, is based in Arlington Heights and is currently working in Chicago."
Melanie cracked up and apologized.
"Don't worry about it," Richard replied. "Usually when I eat out, it's either at a chain place or a sports bar, where I sometimes joke with the waitresses."
Richard looked around the eatery and noticed a sad look on his newfound companion’s face.
“You’ve been here before?”
“Quite often,” Melanie said wistfully.
“Had a bad day?”
“I was all set for the weekend,” Melanie said. “I get a call at work this afternoon. Well, he’s still going to Lake Geneva, but it’s with this new accountant and…”
Richard rolled his eyes, then smiled a bit.
“I don’t know about the weekend, but I think he made a bad decision. This is the first time I’ve been out with a woman and did I ever do well.”
A stunned expression crossed Melanie’s face as she sat up straight in her chair.
“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?”
Melanie became even more curious.
“You know Richard, I find it rather hard to believe that a man as handsome and outgoing as you would have trouble attracting a woman," she said. “Surely there was at least one.”
“Well, there was this good-looking brunette I was around sophomore through senior years in high school.”
“She was a happily married teacher,” Richard simpered. “Story of my life. Too old, too young or too married, engaged or dating someone else.”
“What did she teach?”
“English. And my best subject was U.S. History,” Richard said with a bit of irony in his voice. “Got all B’s in English and straight A’s in U.S. History, so of course, my English teacher is the one I exchange correspondence with since graduation.”
The two absolute strangers seemed at ease with each other, but both felt something similar, as if they had known each other in some earlier life. The restaurant sound system played a different rendition of the same sad love song Richard had heard earlier in the week at the classic car museum, which made him swallow hard and fight back tears. Melancholy love songs always made him feel that way and he explained to Melanie why as they returned to his sister’s home.
She was trying to find some way to keep close to him after this night.
“You’re leaving tomorrow?”
“Union and then Galena,” Richard said. “Hang around there for a few days, go to Dyersville and terrorize Southwestern Wisconsin.”
“Thank you,” Melanie said softly as she pulled up at Richard’s sister Leslie’s house. “I’ve had a nice time. You’ve helped me a great deal.”
She reached into her handbag and pulled out a card holder.
“I’d really love to stay in touch,” she whispered, pulling out a card.
“Sure,” Richard answered, fumbling for one of his business cards. “Here. Better than making a business contact.”
As Melanie drove off, Richard shook his head a bit and tried to get his mind straightened out. For one thing, well, just what was he seeing when he looked at her?
When he first bumped into Melanie on State Street, she was dressed like your typical female computer geek, blue jacket, white blouse, blue slacks, flat shoes and socks. But when she dropped him off, Richard saw her in a sequined dress and she wasn’t wearing the glasses Melanie had worn throughout the evening.
On the other hand, he saw her in a gorgeous white sleeveless number at dinner. That girl certainly changed clothes a lot, at least in Richard’s mind.
He should have checked her knees a bit more often to see if she was wearing boots, but it’s the summer and Richard never was much of a leg man.
“Who as she?” Leslie asked as Richard entered the living room.
“I don’t know,” he replied, trying to fend off a bit of a haze. “I met her this afternoon while I was trying to catch a bus. I asked for help, she gave me some, we were riding on the same train, started talking and before you knew it she was watching me read to your kids and then going out to dinner.”
“Where’d you go?”
“Some place in Dundee. The Dutchman?”
Leslie gasped and then laughed. What was her brother going to do now?
“Go to Union and Galena, like I planned,” he said. “I’ve got her card. Maybe I can set something up on the way back.”
Richard looked at the card and then gave it a double take. No, he said to himself. He accidentally meets this fantastic woman, he may only have a few chances to see her and now this?
No way. There have to be hundreds of women with that name. It couldn’t possibly be her.
“Actually, she felt a bit familiar,” Richard said. “I kept thinking that I may have met her someplace else.”
"I don't know," Melanie told her roommate and former service buddy Cheryl Mapes. "He just seemed familiar."
"Yeah, like on a wanted poster. So you helped him catch a bus in the Loop, rode back here with him on the train and took him out to dinner?" Mapes asked. "Is that right?"
"Well uh, right."
Cheryl rolled her eyes.
"What do you really know about this guy?" she asked with more than a little suspicion. "You said he was reading to his sister's kids."
"And one of his little nephews looked just like him."
"Well isn't that sweet? So when the kid's mom came home, did he panic?"
Melanie shook her head.
Cheryl looked at her roommate and rolled her eyes a little more.
"This afternoon, you get the moon dropped on you and now you've had a date," she groused. "A dinner date with a perfect stranger named, uh?"
"Sounds like this lawyer in Aurora who stood me up once. He did buy your dinner, didn't he?"
"I just had a salad and a side dish," Melanie said as she finished the meal Mapes had left for her. "But to answer your question, yes."
"There's some rocky road in the fridge," Cheryl snorted. "I knew you'd be in the mood for it."
Melanie pushed her plate aside, folded her arms and grinned as if she had just seen a wish come true.
"Neopolitan," she whispered. "He had neopolitan."
“Whatever,” Mapes said with a slight sneer. “What are you going to do now that your weekend’s been screwed up?”
“Drive over to Galena,” Melanie said dreamily.
The next day, Richard packed up his car, had his picture taken riding two of sister’s children on his shoulders and drove off to a nearby county historical museum, where he blew out the roll of film in his camera before noticing that pictures weren’t allowed in the museum (hey, it was only his second time there).
After that, it was on to the other side of the northern Illinois, with a quickie stop for film and a Diet Coke here, a pit stop there and an historical marker pulling him off to the side all over.
Richard went off the state highway for one such landmark, driving into the country to click a shot of a monument in a tiny unincorporated area in the middle of the country. After some confusion, he finally made it back to the state road, not noticing that a blue Honda Civic had just gone through the intersection while he was about a quarter of a mile from it. Heading west.
The driver of the blue car noticed Richard as the two paths crossed at dinner that night, although neither spoke to or even acknowledged each other, except when Melanie noticed him and ran back to ask his server a question.
“Is everything all right?” the server asked Richard as she made her rounds.
“Well, she didn’t show up, but otherwise everything’s fine,” he replied.
“I’m sorry about that,” the server chuckled. “Can I get you anything else?”
“Yeah, about five-seven, short dark hair, pretty eyes, not sure about the legs. And another cup of coffee.”
“I think she was just here, and she might have left you something.”
The server brought a bowl of neopolitan ice cream to Richard’s table.
“Complements of your secret admirer.”
Here? Richard thought to himself, here? He had just arrived in Galena and didn’t know anyone here. After eating, Richard took a room for the night, not noticing the blue foreign hatchback parked in another motel’s lot.
Richard had to backtrack a bit when he started touring Galena the next day, since he passed some of the bigger attractions coming into town. After soaking in Grant’s Home and some more antique cars, he stopped by the Spanish cannons in one park to snap a picture of the skyline.
That’s when he noticed a woman with short dark hair wearing sunglasses, a white sleeveless blouse and black shorts looking out from a distance at the village. Suddenly, she started walking in his direction.
She kept coming closer and Richard kept snapping her picture. Closer and closer, until she got right next to him and smiled.
“Hi, hi,” he said with a nervous chuckle. “Fancy seeing you here.”
“I had other plans, but they didn’t work out, so I thought I’d drive over here,” Melanie said.
“Was that you who bought me dessert last night?”
“When we went for ice cream Thursday and you ordered neopolitan,” she said. “Something about that. I don’t know what, it just hit me.”
Richard began to nervously review his itinerary for the weekend, a collection of museums and home visits in the quaint little village, followed by an excursion to a farm in Iowa which had been the set for a movie about baseball.
“Wh-what were you going to do?” he nervously asked the beaming woman looking at him.
“I might want to stop at the Winery, if we could. I didn’t plan this very well myself, so I’m glad you did. Next time, we can work something else out.”
Melanie smiled and nodded her head in the way a happy schoolgirl might. They started for the foot bridge into downtown Galena, eventually clasping hands.
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 and 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?”
Richard called time, went back to home plate, grabbed the bat and walked over to the bleachers.
After handing the bat to Melanie, he whispered something into the granddaughter’s ear and she relayed it to Jack.
“You’re up,” he said to his companion.
Melanie strode to the plate, took a few swings for practice and then took a swing. Two tries later, she connected. Richard races around the bases and slid into home plate, eluding a throw from the outfield, only to see Melanie trotting around the sacks, rounding third and heading for home.
“Al Kaline has just hit a tremendous shot over the left field wall,” Jack declared. “Putting the Tigers ahead of the Cardinals here in this 1968 World Series.”
Richard looked up at Melanie, shrugged, then got up and started laughing.
“You were supposed to be Charlie Gehringer.”
“Charlie Gehringer, the Mechanical Man,” Jack chimed in. “Played second base for Detroit in the 1930s. You were supposed to stop at second!”
Richard put his arm around Melanie and started to walk off the field.
“You better keep him honey,” Jack called out as they left. “He sounds like he knows his baseball!”
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.
As the evening progressed, Melanie began to talk about her past encounters with romance, including a boy in middle school who just drifted away and eventually mistreated her in high school. She then went on to lament the men who had drifted into and out of, her life since then.
"That was sad," Richard said. "If it had been me, I would have treated you better, especially early on. Did this kid give you some kind of funny nickname?"
"He might have," she said with a sigh. "I don't remember."
"Did he ever kiss you?"
"No, but I sort of remember some kind of signal that the other kids in class needled him about."
"Did he wink at you?"
"He might have. I don't remember. Actually, I'm trying to forget. What about you?"
"It's easier for me to be friends with a woman than it is to love one."
Melanie was a bit surprised by the response.
"Are you gay?" she asked in a half-whisper.
"Oh no," Richard replied. "If I was gay, I'd say that it was easier for me to be friends with a man than it was to love one. I was just burned so often, that it's reached a point where I'd rather just be friends."
As for his new friend, Richard was a bit wistful about the way they met and the prospects for staying friends by long distance.
“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, or at least that’s how it seemed.”
Richard looked over to see Melanie laughing and felt a great deal of satisfaction in the late summer air. He had made an attractive woman laugh, something he had done before, but only once or twice before, in very distant past life, had it been as special as it was now.
The couple stopped to buy some wine coolers before returning to a motel that this time both had checked into. Their rooms were at opposite ends of the building, but they were in the same place.
They laughed about that arrangement as they watched an old movie on TV and drank the coolers in Melanie’s room.
“Funny Girl!” the dark-haired woman exclaimed as the movie began. “I saw this right before my freshman year in high school! A new theater had opened and I went to see it with my friends.”
Richard smiled a nervous smile as he sat next to Melanie on the motel room bed, gradually placing his arm around her. He hadn’t seen the picture, but something in it stirred some painful memories and he was wary order of that moment.
“Sorry, but I can’t stick around,” he said close to the end of the show. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
He jumped off the bed and then turned back to his companion.
“W-Would you mind?” he stammered,
“Mind if what?”
Richard leaned over and pecked Melanie on one cheek.
“Way to go Joe,” she whispered. “Come back when you can stay longer.”
Richard smiled sheepishly and half-stumbled out of the room. He walked rapidly to his room at the other end of the long Super Eight and didn’t stop until he was inside his own room. Tears trickled down his face a series of unpleasant memories began to flood through his mind.
He was back in his boyhood home on the Saturday after he started high school, feeling alone, alone for the Mogen David sisters, and singing along with Barbara Streisand.
With tears in his eyes.
“She went to the movie with her friends,” Richard thought to himself. “I’ll bet their names were Cindy Elmore, Jan Simons, Joyce Buckley, Kim Wilhite and Patty Williams?”
The sad look on Richard’s face didn’t escape Melanie’s notice as they sat at breakfast the next morning.
“I’m sorry I had to cut out so quickly last night,” Richard said softly. “There was an incident with a song from that movie back when I was young.”
“Which one?” Melanie asked with a compassionate grin.
“The title track. It was playing one night after I started high school. I’d lost track of my girlfriend the first day of school, I wasn’t in any classes with her or any of her friends. Most of the kids I was in class with were a bunch of idiots who liked to yank on my chain. Anyway, that song was playing on the radio after I went to bed and I just broke down listening to it.”
Melanie gently rubbed Richard’s hand as he continued reminiscing, if one could call it that.
“I don’t know how many times I cried myself to sleep then,” he went on to say. “I even broke down during the homecoming pep assembly. Everybody was ‘where’s your school spirit?’ We’re number one! We’re number one!’ Not me. I don’t care how many football games Baylor Heights won. They weren’t number one with me.”
Richard looked at Melanie and showed a sad smile.
“There was always a feeling I had when someone I had drawn close to was getting ready to go away and I never knew if I’d see her again,” he sighed. “I look at you now and feel that way.”
“As if you were going to lose that girl twice?” Melanie asked softly.
The afternoon was cheerful, but bittersweet as Richard and Melanie moved among the tall, quaint old buildings of Galena, stopping to check out some antique displays and taking in the exhibits at the county museum, among other places. At a print shop, Melanie bought a few posters and gave one to Richard to remember their visit.
For Richard, it was “hey, why not?” as he went through some of the same sights he had already seen, but this time with an attractive woman at his side.
“How do you like the view?” Melanie asked as the two gazed out over the rolling countryside from an observation tower late in the afternoon.
“Love it,” Richard said with a shy grin as he snapped pictures of the scenery. “Love it.”
With that, he captured a shot of Melanie as she looked out from the tower.
The summer sun was starting to drop just a little bit to the west when the couple sat down in a one of those comfortable small town places for dinner.
“We covered a lot of ground the last two days,” Richard said. “We’ve gone down in a lead mine, played baseball on the Field of Dreams, each had a glass of Galena wine, sang karaoke, went through a couple of museums and watched an old movie that made me cry.”
“You saw some places more than once, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, but I’ll tell you this. Grant’s home, the county museum and the antique car museum were better the second time around.”
“More fun. Had company, and very nice company at that. I mean, I was able to yammer about all the history I’d learned and what it reminded me of, and this time there was actually someone around to hear it.”
Melanie chuckled and sipped her drink. She ran her finger around the glass of iced tea and smiled.
“Richard, I don’t know if you want to talk about this,”
“That girl. Your lost love.”
“Wouldn’t you like to know where she is today, what she’s doing, what happened to her?”
“She’s somewhere in this vast country of ours, married to a hunkasarus who out-Magnums Magnum and has three athletic smart kids.”
“Are you sure of that?”
“That’s my experience with romance. It’s almost like I’m not allowed to have a girlfriend, let alone a wife and family.”
“But what if that’s not the case?” Melanie dropped her head a bit and grinned a mischevious adolescent grin at the man sitting across from her munching on some shrimp.
“What if she’s looking for you Rick?” she giggled. “What if she’s sitting at home somewhere right now wondering ‘Ooh, I wonder whatever happened to Rick Davidson? He was so cute and he had the biggest crush on me.’”
“She’s probabIy saying it with a snarl while taking target practice,” Richard simpered. He finally gave in and started to give out what information he could. Where she went to school, their school days together and her military record.
Melanie seemed a bit taken aback as Richard gave her the lowdown, but she cheerfully took the notes.
“This is going to be so great,” she said giddily.
“I guess,” Richard shrugged. “Would you be there to help me shake off the inevitable heartbreak?”
”But what if I’m the one who needs holding?” she asked as they left the restaurant.
“Then I’ll have to do this now.”
Richard pushed up his glasses, did the same to Melanie’s and pulled her to him. There in front of the local watering hole for Elizabeth, IL, he warmly kissed a woman he had just met for the first time a few days earlier.
He watched the blue Honda fade off down the highway and then slowly returned to his own car. And now what?
Melanie seemed to glide back to her apartment, sailing away with a euphoria she hadn’t felt since her youth.
On her return home, the dark-haired young woman had the look of a lovesick schoolgirl as she entered her apartment. Once in her room, Melanie flung herself on a bed, rolled over and contemplated what had taken place on the other side of the state.
Her age seemed to regress as Melanie replayed the weekend which had just passed, hoping that this time would be the right time. Then she remembered the note pad which she had in her handbag.
Maybe Richard’s fears were true, Melanie thought to herself. If they were, somebody should be there to comfort him. She looked in her dressing table mirror and grinned.
“Oh look! She’s back,” Mapes said, standing in the doorway. “How did the weekend with bachelor number four work out?”
“I don’t know what to say,” Melanie said. “I was like a girl in high school, but only this time, there was a boy.”
“And now it’s over and he’s gone back to his hometown honey,” Mapes grumbled.
Melanie responded with a sad nod.
“There was a girl he went to school with,” she sighed. “I got some information and told him I’d look it up. I thought I’d take it to some guys who are working on a data-retrieval system.”
She looked back in in the mirror.
“He said there was something about the way I grinned.”
Mapes shrugged and went back to bed.
“Hey Mike! Can you do me a favor?” Melanie asked a co-worker at her office the next day.
“What’s up?” Mike replied.
“Can you find something on this person? I’m trying to find somebody for a friend pf mine and was wondering if some of that new technology you’ve been playing with might turn them up.”
The search did not take that long.
“I’m not sure you really needed my help,” Mike said as he handed Melanie a printout when she checked back into the office at the end of the work day.
“You’ve got the info already?”
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 s afternoon on State Street.
She grabbed for the phone and nervously dialed an old friend.
“Hi Jan!” 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!”
As he returned from the rest of his vacation, Richard stopped to visit an aunt on her family farm about midway between Galena and Baylor Heights. Aunt Annie had always been a favorite of Richard’s and like most aunts and grandparents, wondered about his future.
By the time Richard stopped at the tidy red brick farmhouse just north of Ohio, IL, the news of his female encounter had reached the relatives.
“How did you meet this girl?” Aunt Annie asked of Richard.
“In downtown Chicago,” he chuckled. “On State Street, while I was trying to catch a bus after visiting the Broadcasting Museum. It’s weird. I can just hear my folks now. ‘What did you do in Galena, Rick?’ ‘Oh, saw Grant’s home, the Market House, the County Museum. Went out on a date with a woman I met in Chicago.’”
That evening, Rick became quiet and somber.
“There was a girl I went to school with. I think about her a lot. This woman reminded me of her. This girl had the cutest grin in the world and this woman,”
“Maybe it’s the same person.”
“I doubt it.”
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 day Richard returned to work.
“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 demanded playfully. “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.
“Melanie Beck and Patty Williams,” he whispered to himself. “Va-va-va-voom!”
His euphoria over keeping his secret love secret lasted until mid-afternoon.
“Richard,” the reception cooed with a flirty lilt in her voice. “Line one. Somebody wants you.”
“Hi remember me?” Melanie whispered.
“How can I forget?”
“Did you get my message?”
“Are you ready for a reunion?”
“All depends on who’s there.”
‘Wanna catch up with an old classmate?”
“Say Saturday night around seven-ish at Poor Richard’s?”
“All right. How do you know about Poor Richard’s?”
“She told me and I’ve been there a few times.”
“Oh OK. We’ll see you then.”
“See you then. Be ready for a big surprise. Bye.”
Richard said his good bye and hung up, then looked up to see the entire office watching him. Even the boss, Mrs. Redman, looked on giddily.
“New author you were speaking to?” she asked with a chuckle.
Richard shook his head with a blush and a grin.
“That was the mystery lady from my vacation,” he said in a partial haze. “She’s coming down with an old classmate of mine and we’re going to dinner Saturday night!”
Mrs. Redman turned and started back to her office. As she walked past another editor, the two giggled and exchanged a high five.
“Rick’s got himself a woman!” the other woman chuckled.
The rest if the time leading up to Saturday started out well for Richard, but then he began to remember some of the things he had done to Melanie in high school and the way things ended. Another girl had come on to him in front of his family prior to freshman year and even though his affection for Melanie never faded, she became a memory. Every time he looked at anything even remotely connected to his school days, there was her memory was there and so was his guilt.
What could he say to her, beyond “I’m sorry I hurt you”? What was there about the old times that might come up? The dumb stuff adolescents do that Richard was trying to forget would probably be all she wanted to talk about.
With little idea of what to do, Rick tried to plan an evening. Dinner was taken care of, so he scanned the ads for theater tickets, then called to see where his brother’s band would be playing. That might make a nice place to stop after the show.
If Richard was reluctant about what was about to transpire, Melanie was more enthusiastic. Much more. As she shopped for a dress and accessories, she carried on a conversation with someone who wasn't really there.
"Excuse me, are you Melanie Beck?"
She searched through a series of dress racks before finding the right one.
"Do you remember a Richard Davidson?"
"Richard Davidson? Rick Davidson?"
Finally, she came across that little black dress.
"Oh Rick? What about him?"
In the persona of their “lost classmate” Melanie became more excited, as her voice rose.
Now for a pair of matching nylons.
"Well, he still has feelings and would like to meet you."
Shoes or boots?
“R-Rick! Rick Davidson?”
She finished applying make-up, then looked herself over in a motel room mirror. Staring back at Melanie was an attractive young woman in the proverbial slinky black outfit, something of a difference from the female computer geek who sometimes tried to be like one of the boys.
"Rick," she sighed.
On the big day, Richard slept-walked, performing some chores around the apartment and making a trip to the library until 4:30 p.m. rolled around. Then he began to prepare for something, but he wasn’t sure what.
Almost methodically, he dressed for dinner, donning a blue suit and tie as if he were preparing for something more somber than a social outing. Fixing his tie, he wondered about the woman he was about to meet and what he might say to her.
Richard closed the door to his apartment, knocked on it and hummed a bit of “Me and My Shadow” before virtually dragging himself to his car for the trip to the restaurant.
“So Mr. Bond, we meet again,” he jested to himself in a feeble Russian accent, trying to quiet his nerves.
He also wondered what they would talk about. Would they talk about their lives today? Or reminisce about the past?
The latter sent chills down Richard's spine and soured his expression, as he pictured himself reliving every embarassing moment from his school days, as Melanie had their mutual friend cracking up throughout the evening. Getting upset over something one of their teachers said? Sure. Acting up in the library? Certainly. Idiotic action after idiotic action? Oh please, more, more, more.
Mr. Dewitt's warning on test days?
"No looking at your neighbor's papers. Rick, no looking at your neighbor's papers and correcting wrong answers."
Don't expect to hear about that tonight. Or about the times he came up with an answer that was on the tip of the teacher’s tongue, or a million other fun and pleasant times.
Like the time he rescued her in a tug of war over one of the only rolls of masking tape in art class.
“Everybody said I was sticking up for one of the Mogen David sisters,” Richard chuckled to himself. “I said that I was just trying to be cool like Mannix. We were both right.”
Dread, regret, chagrin, unease over having to relive humiliating moments. All those feelings went through Richard’s mind as he parked his car and strode slowly towards the entrance of Poor Richard’s.
As his eyes poured over the group of waiting diners, Richard was totally unprepared for the gorgeous short dark-haired woman awaiting him in the little black dress. The vacation fantasies were vivid, but they paled in comparison to what looked back at him from the cloakroom bench, flashing a smile he hadn’t seen in 15 or so years.
“Hello,” Melanie said, giggling at a tongue-tied Richard. “Didn’t you think you’d ever see me again?”
“Well, I did kind of hope so, but you know how these summer flings are. And I’m not the most fortunate lover in the world.”
As they were escorted to their table, Richard’s eyes scanned the entire stretch of the dining room. He was also a bit shocked when the couple was led to an intimate table for two.
“S-s-so where is she?” he stammered.
“You know who. My old classmate. Where is she and,”
“The hunky hunk she married and their fantastic kids?”
“There is no hunky hunk, and no fantastic kids. At least, not yet.”
Melanie moved closer to the speechless man sitting next to her.
“Ooooh, I wonder whatever happened to Rick Davidson? He was.”
Richard tried to contain himself, but tears were forming.
“I’m sorry I hurt you Melanie,” he fumbled, grabbing his water glass and taking a drink. “I wanted to be with you all these years, but we got separated at Baylor Heights and I got bitter and..”
A black dress glove reached over and tapped Richard on the hand. They both began to giggle, two middle school sweethearts lost in emotion after being apart for a number of years---and two weeks.
“The girl that I hung a funny nickname on, and then lost in high school,” he muttered. “The one who later wouldn’t,”
“Did you ever have any idea how beautiful you made me feel?”
“And then somebody else came along and flirted with me in front of my family,” Richard stammered. “You don’t know how much I missed you that summer. And then we got to high school. And my biggest fears came true.”
Melanie cupped her head in her hands and just listened.
“What did you call Patty and me?” She asked.
“The Mogen David sisters.”
“You weren’t the girls I was supposed to like; you were the girls I really liked.”
Just then, Melanie’s name was called and they were led to a quiet table for two.
They talked about some of the old times, but it didn’t seem to be as embarrassing as Richard feared, but he did have his indifference to answer for, as well as his suspicions and the way he treated a girl he thought he loved and lost.
“Why did you do that?” she asked, still fighting an ancient hurt.
“I was a dumb, scared teenager who lost his first crush in a large crowd,” Richard replied in an equally pained voice. “Baylor Heights. I saw you, I wanted to be with you and then I never saw you again, except as ships passing in the night.”
“But then you told Wendy Simmons something?”
Richard sadly nodded.
“I had a dream right before school started. You and Mark Booher were together.”
“Mark Booher? What made you think that me and Mark Booher?”
“Well, he was cute. He was a nice kid and he, well I guess you went for wrestlers like your brother. I mean, come on. Gary Tilhof?”
“What did I tell you in Galena?” Richard confessed, biting his lip. “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. Doesn’t work that well in practice, especially if there’s nobody around who’d make a good substitute.”
“Is that how it was?”
“Yeah. There were times when I wish I could have walked up to you, there were times, I thought I said that in Galena.”
Richard started to laugh.
“Now what?” Melanie demanded.
“Here we are,” Richard chuckled. “Two people, each nearly 30 years old, reminiscing about how our hearts were broken in high school with the people who broke our hearts.”
Melanie broke down herself.
Then during dinner, Richard felt something running up and down his pants leg.
“A beautiful woman in a little black dress flirts with a man during an intimate dinner,” he thought to himself. “The man looks like me. What’s wrong with this picture?”
The day’s mild weather and und uncertain sunshine were lost on Richard as he slowly sipped his coffee that Saturday morning.
An all-too familiar melancholy engulfed him as pondered the autumn weekend before him. Richard and Melanie had made the most of things regarding their long-distance relationship, but now something had plunged him into that pit of despair.
He glumly went about his morning, spending time at the library, once again yearning for his lost love and wondering why it couldn’t be him.
A long term project in San Diego. Where old sailors go to fade away.
“She’d been so, I don’t know,” Richard whispered to himself. “Oh yeah, she said she’d be back, but for how long and to do what?”
He moved away from a group of chattering teen-aged girls and slouched towards the business section of the library. Where at least that would be at a minimum.
But even there, Richard couldn’t escape his melancholy.
An article in a magazine. A name. Cheryl.
Melanie’s roommate had been named Cheryl. She didn’t seem to like Richard, as if that had been anything new. A sense of desperation broke over Richard as he burst out of his chair and bolted out of the library.
Back at his apartment, Rick threw together some things in a small travel case and started to leave, choking back emotion. He then made a phone call.
“Mom, I don’t think I’ll be coming over this weekend,” he said. “I just need to get away. I’m going up north. No! I’ll be back Sunday night! I have to be, I have to go to work Monday!”
Then he drove.
Richard had two days to lament, and then he could take that small blue box back to the jewelry store for a refund. And who knows? Maybe even move on.
And he drove.
More than once, Richard seemed to fall in line behind a group of high school football fans excitedly motoring to a high school playoff game. A mixture of joy and sadness overwhelmed him as Richard juggled thoughts of excitement for the fans with the gloom in his own heart.
Just about everyone on his mom’s side of the family had a team in the playoffs, so this would be a busy day for them. He wondered if he’d run into any of them as he drove.
Oh, and Baylor Heights was number one in the state and hosting a playoff football game that afternoon.
“Who were they playing?” Richard asked as he stopped at a convenience store for coffee aIong the way.
The ringing of the phone rousted Melanie from her sleep. She tried to put on a polite manner as she groggily fumbled for the phone. If this is some telemarketer, she thought indignantly.
“Hello,” she croaked through a weary voice.
“Is this Melanie?”
“This is Leslie Quinn, Rick Davidson’s sister.”
“Look,” Melanie growled politely. “I just got in from the West Coast at around three this morning. I just got to sleep after three nights of not being able to because of him,”
“Something’s happened. My mom called and something’s happened. Rick has been very upset lately and this morning, he just got in his car and started driving.”
Melanie bolted up in bed. She reached across her night stand, knocking some snap shots to the floor.
“You don’t have any ideas where he might have gone to?”
Melanie climbed out of bed and picked up the photos. The first was of her and Richard in front of a café in,
“Galena!” she cried out. “Or maybe Elizabeth! Somewhere over there!”
Melanie hung up the phone and quickly got dressed. Within two hours, a blue Honda Civic was headed down U.S. 20, its driver puzzled as to why she would be so concerned with this man.
As she passed the Union exit, Melanie swallowed hard and thought of Richard. That feeling struck again and again as she wove through the crisp autumn afternoon, her mind racing jet-like as she tried to come up with what to say should they meet.
The sun was finishing its workday as Melanie wound her way down the country highway. She paid little attention to the cars festooned with homemade banners and streamers passed her blue hatchback k in the dying autumn sunlight.
Then she saw it and made a right turn. The observation tower. Where Rick had snapped her picture while getting a panorama of the view from the top and then kissed her those few years earlier.
She pulled in, barely noticing the car parked a few spaces from hers. Melanie rapidly walked to the tower and then climbed the stairs, her boot heels clicking as she ascended to the top level.
At the top, she looked across and saw him, hunched against a post, not noticing her.
It was Richard, looking out over the valleys and the farm land, beginning its hibernation.
Muttering to himself about feeling lonely.
A light chilled breeze tickled Richard’s face as he stared sadly at the distance. His head drooped as he closed his eyes.
“Somewhere in this vast country of ours,” he muttered to himself. “Married to a hunky hunk.”
A soft set of fingers touched his elbow. Stunned, he sharply turned to find Melanie smiling at him.
“The hunky hunk didn’t like neopolitan ice cream,” she whispered.
Their eyes met, then their lips, as car horns began to honk in the distance.
“Galena must have won the football game,” Richard said.
A sense of sadness and frustration gripped Richard as he awoke that summer morning. Staring at the hotel room roof, he wondered.
He was thinking about Melanie again.
Why now? Why after all these years?
Where was she? What was she doing? Was she-
He scanned the room and saw the women’s clothes hanging next to his.
Then Richard looked over at the attractive woman with short dark hair contentedly sleeping next to him.
Did she really stumble back into his life late one summer afternoon on State Street? Did they really rekindle something that seemed to have started years earlier in a different world?
Did she really take his name a day earlier?
Richard relaxed, then reached over to put his arm around Melanie. In doing so, her eyes fluttered and she began to stir.
“Good morning Mrs. Davidson,” he said.
Richard and Melanie are still together today. They have three children and now, some grandchildren on the horizon.
A few years after they were married, the publishing company took a flyer on one of the manuscripts by their editor for historical literature, only it was from an idea which he shared with his wife, about three girls and the trouble they get this boy in their class into.
The male character is named Jeremy and they’ve The Mogen David Sisters.
Of course it was her idea. She just kept pushing him to try it.