by Steve Joos
A relationship teeters as a couple is separated by a long distance business trip.
|Was it all going to be for naught?
As Richard walked down the pathway, he pondered that question.
The blacktopped park lane was starting to come alive with the autumn colors as the sun began to rise that crystal clear autumn morning, but gloom pervaded Richard's mood as he wandered the path, convenience store coffee in hand.
He had walked this way with Melanie more than a few times over the two years since they were reunited, but now something sadder seemed to be closing in on him.
It had been like that since Melanie had gone to the West Coast on business. Each morning, he arose and listened to rain, no matter what the weather was like, waiting between hope and despair.
At least now my memories were more contemporary than middle school long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, Richard chuckled to himself. Now instead of watching her drift away thanks to their class schedules, Richard could think of a beautiful Saturday afternoon walking through the trees together before she told him about her job assignment.
Can’t say I like being alone, but at least this time I got a kiss, Richard thought.
But he was still alone.
As he watched a football game later that afternoon, Richard’s mind sailed off in a million directions, but they all led to Melanie.
She sent him a postcard of the Padres’ stadium in San Diego, but that was the last he had heard from her.
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?”
As Melanie scanned the luxury box, a combination of excitement and regret battled for prominence inside her.
She watched in awestruck excitement as the Chargers rallied to win their game and seemed to be taken in by the massive, well-equipped corporate suite, something wasn’t right.
Or was it someone?
There was someone who kept creeping into her consciousness throughout the long project no matter how many times she tried to avoid it.
“Rick would have known that,” she thought to herself after the answer to yet another trivia question was revealed, this time on the stadium scoreboard at halftime. “Rick would have ate up the old missions and the military history.”
And she was a bit crestfallen again, after the handsome junior officer her brother had introduced her to earlier had just introduced her to his wife.
It was then that something hit her.
“You’re sure you can’t stay on,” Melanie’s sister-in-law asked as she packed to leave later that week. “I’m sure you can find a job around here.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t,” Melanie replied. “They gave me two weeks at work and..”
Her eyes suddenly fell upon a plaid sweater. It was the one she wore that day in the park with Richard before leaving.
“I’ve got to go,” she said. “I’ve got to go.”
Richard was all Melanie could think of. as she hurried to the airport and all the way home. As she fell into her apartment exhausted, Melanie heaved a loud sigh.
I have to find Richard, she thought to herself. I have to call him.
The day’s mild weather and 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.
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 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.