Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Right Back Where We Ended From

This short story--at its core--is a work of fiction.  However, it was inspired by a series of unconnected events that occurred in my life.  These tiny snippets were then knitted together at my literary loom with the yarn of imagination.  I submit it for your enjoyment.

Settled comfortably into his hotel room on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, the author was whiling away a few free hours poring over an endless queue of emails that had accumulated since his traveling book tour had departed Detroit earlier that day.  Since writing Child of Privilege, his life had become a whirlwind of airports, motel rooms, TV, phone, and radio interviews, book signings, and emails ... and more emails ... and still more emails.  There were emails from his publisher, the publicists, his agent, fans, his editor, haters, author groupies, scam artists, almost everybody imaginable.  But somehow, he didn't mind.

A slot on the best-seller list could ameliorate a wide range of inconveniences.

If the truth be known, he treasured the accolades from fans and author peers alike.  He delighted in offering advice and encouragement to struggling writers still dreaming of climbing that golden ladder known as the best-seller list.  He never failed to remember that—not too long ago—he was fighting the same fight.  

He never allowed himself the convenience of forgetting where he came from.

Even the occasional hate mail failed to tarnish the sparkle of literary success.

He had finally made it.

After typing a few words of encouragement to yet another author hopeful, he scrolled down to the next message which read: Hey, Mister Rich Writer!  I’m hitting you with a paternity suit!

The author groaned with the sickening sensation of his stomach caving in and squeezing his colon like a balloon.  He muttered a guttural string of obscenities at the hubris of some envious opportunist forcing him to divert time and energy to defend himself against a wild and baseless accusation.  It happens to public figures all the time, he repeated to himself with little solace.  Dealing with this sort of crap was a waste of resources and effort.

His first inclination was to simply forward the email to his lawyer and await legal advice.  But something in the back of his mind nagged him into opening the ominous communique.

His laptop computer's screen instantly lit up with a palette of bright colors, flowers, pastel fairy-tale images, butterflies, and bold, rainbow script:  Ha Ha!  Another gotcha from your favorite red-haired girl!!!!

Your favorite red-haired girl?  What the hell was going on here?!  There was only one person of his acquaintance who fit that description: Joanna.

They’d met during the 1980's singles' craze when a local magazine sponsored a "get acquainted, get plastered, and get laid" party at a nearby bar.  What began as a Saturday night dinner date culminated in two years of cohabitation.  Drawn together by her capricious, giggling, light-hearted silliness, and his shy, reserved seriousness, the improbable couple had shared tears, laughter, living-room sofas, dinner tables, travels, beds, sunshine, rain, arguments, and reconciliations with surprising deftness.  The mere fact that the odds towered against this union of opposites drove them to cling even more tightly to each other.

But, as with all good things, time subtly altered the complexion of their relationship.  The same differences that had once drawn them together gradually shifted over time and began to erode the very foundations of what they had built together.  Her personality increasingly grated against his; his demeanor increasingly chafed against hers.  Shared moments and lovemaking soon darkened into soul-chilling coldness; affection and laughter were decimated by stony silence.

It was time to leave: she to her life; he to his.

And now their paths were about to cross again ... thirty years and two lifetimes later.

                  *                            *                            *

The author sat in the deserted hotel bar and nervously toyed with his half-empty wineglass. He always had been one to choose the half-empty side of the half-full/half-empty debate.

How would Joanna look after thirty years?  How would he look to her after thirty years?  He silently chastised himself for his three decades of overindulgence in pizza, Italian beef, barbecued ribs, fast food, beer, junk food, and fried chicken.  His gluttony loudly indicted itself with a self-conscious roll around his midsection and general pudginess everywhere else.  He wistfully wondered if another glass of wine would somehow melt those extra pounds away before she arrived.

He decided to have another one anyway and take his chances.

Fifteen minutes late (some things with Joanna never changed), an attractive, full-figured woman nervously entered the bar and looked around.  Two pairs of eyes met and immediately locked onto each other just as they'd done at that bar back in 1985.  Two smiles burst brightly like homing beacons welcoming two lost ships passing in the night.  She hurried over to his table and opened her arms to her onetime lover. 

After the usual kisses and hugs, they sat down and ordered a bottle of wine.  As though by never-forgotten instinct, they reached across the table for one another and held hands.  "Jo, you're looking better than ever," he said, pleasantly surprised at the sensuality this sixty-year-old woman still radiated.  "You haven't changed a bit."

"I'm glad you're a better writer than you are a BS'er, Ross," she laughed heartily.  "Maybe I haven't changed, but my legs, thighs, and buns sure have.  I've gotta join a gym sometime and start shaping up."

"It happens to the best of us," he answered.  "The years and the pounds have a way of creeping up when you're not looking."

He couldn't help but marvel at how little of her vitality and energy had been claimed by the years.  True, she wasn't the Joanna of 1985.  By some yardsticks, she was overweight; by others, simply Rubenesque.  But that characteristic liveliness and that irresistible twinkle in her eyes--though slightly dimmed--were still undeniably there.  Her hair was still perfectly coiffured in that same perky short style of hers, but the red—not her own, by her own admission--had mellowed into a subdued salt-and-pepper.  While showing the trials and tribulations of her life, most of the inner woman he had fallen for so long ago was still alive and well.

In an unguarded moment--likely fueled by the wine he shouldn't have consumed before her arrival--he began calculating the odds.

"Being a writer seems to agree with you," she said.  "So, how does it feel to have a best-seller?" she asked, forcing him to set his reverie aside. 

He sipped at his wine and grinned self-consciously.  "I've been very lucky," he replied breezily.  "There were a lot of times when I almost threw the damned thing back into the closet and forgot about it.  I wish I could say it all came easily, but that's not the way it happened."

She gave his hand an affectionate squeeze.  "But you stuck with it and made it happen.  I’m proud of you."

"I'll let you in on a little secret," he chuckled, "I stopped more often than a cheap watch.  To this day, I don't know how that book ever got written."

"But it got written and people like it.  I've been following the reviews; everybody loves it.  I can't pass a book-rack without seeing Child of Privilege out there."  She added with a slight blush, "I have to resist the urge to tell everyone that I used to sleep with the author."

"That and eight bucks will buy you a cup of coffee," he snickered.

Her gentle laughter sliced through both the years and the calluses that had hardened upon his soul.  On the surface, he was forced to admit to himself that they were different people now, changed forever by the pain of an ill-fated love affair and the separate paths their lives had taken.  But, far beneath those ten-thousand-plus days, something within him had begun to stir once again from three decades of slumber.

Those old feelings were unexpectedly rekindling from the ashes of that final argument that propelled them from each others lives.  He caught himself asking whimsical questions about love lost and love found.  He caught himself asking if a thread from that far in the past could be picked up again and woven into something warm, vibrant, and so beautifully alive again.

He caught himself asking just how possible it might be.

"Ross, you're blushing," she giggled.  "Still the quiet shy guy, huh?"

Unwilling to indulge himself any further, he scrambled to change the subject.  "So, what's been happening with you?" he stammered.  "Bring me up to date."

As the minutes ticked away and matured into hours, the bottle of White Zinfandel slowly but surely emptied only to be replaced by another.  The conversation meandered across the streams and meadows of her life: her career as a teacher of special-needs children; a wonderful, down-to-earth man named Jerry whom she eventually married; the two fur babies who served as the couple's surrogate children when problems with her ovaries were discovered; her joy and fulfillment at serving as an unofficial aunt to the neighborhood children; and the devastation of coming home from work that tragic day to find Jerry lying on the kitchen floor, the victim of a sudden and massive heart attack. 

Now, she was outwardly anxious to ease away from a painful memory.  "After I was out of the picture, did you ever get married?" she asked.

He hesitated for a few moments.  "I thought I was close a couple of times," he replied wistfully, winking at her and squeezing her hand softly, "but I never did meet Miss Right.  It seems like whenever somebody came along, my heart went somewhere else."

"Let me guess: your writing." 

He spoke of his unfathomable urge to write novels he knew would likely never see the light of day.  But he wrote them anyway only to sadly consign them to the lonely obscurity of his closet.  He related the tale of self-publishing for the digital reader market, scratching and clawing for every review and promotional opportunity he could muster.  The sadness was clearly written on his face as Joanna heard his stories of setbacks, rejections, discouragement, and mounting frustration as his dream remained so far beyond his reach.

Then, through the intervention of an influential book blogger, his novel found its way into the right pair of hands ... and life for the unknown and obscure novelist would never be the same.  Joanna listened happily as her onetime lover energetically spun tales of agents, publishers, editors, rewrites, interviews, book signings, and his novel's unstoppable climb up the best-seller list.  She had rarely seen him so alive, determined, joyful, and animated as when he was talking about writing and his book.

She found herself wondering if their paths were somehow fated to cross again.  She also found herself wondering if love’s incredible lightning could indeed strike twice.

It wasn't long before the second bottle of wine was gone, expended in the noble cause of reviving two lifetimes of memories.

After emptying her glass, Joanna gestured toward the door and asked, "Grant Park is right across the street.  Wanna go for a walk and get all this wine out of our heads?"

They arrived a few minutes later at the slender corridor of green space that served as downtown Chicago’s majestic front lawn.  A portrait of autumnal beauty—with Lake Michigan forming a cloudless blue backdrop—greeted them with a storybook fall landscape.  The trees had already surrendered their foliage to the short days and crisp nights, covering the ground with a lush carpet of red, crimson, gold, and yellow leaves which rustled in a brisk, uncharacteristically warm mid-October breeze.  Nearby, the lake’s rippling waters glistened in the waning golden sunlight.
Although situated in the heart of a major city, Grant Park was strangely peaceful and quiet that day as though being lulled into winter slumber by nature’s inexorable clock.  It was a setting ideal for reflection, memories, and quiet conversation.

Joanna and the author walked hand-in-hand, sharing the natural beauty surrounding them.  It wasn't long before they both stopped as though following some sort of internal cue, turned to each other, and kissed in the fading Midwestern sunshine.  The kiss wasn't of passion, it was of longing; it wasn't of giddy romantic love, it was of the rekindling and rebirth of familiar intimacy; it wasn't sexy, it was sensual.

The two ex-lovers gazed into one another's eyes for several hesitant moments, and then sought out each others lips again.  This time, the kiss was longer, deeper, saying much more, warming the autumn wind with its heat.  Without a word, he drew her to him, enveloped Joanna in his arms, and silently said what his heart had neglected to say thirty years ago.  She nestled in his arms and pulled him even closer to her, close enough for him to feel the fullness of her breasts pressing into his chest.  Three decades of separation fell away like the gaily-colored leaves tumbling groundward around them.  There was something in the air ... a sense of anticipation ... a feeling of rebirth ... a promise of renewal blossoming amidst nature’s season of dying and fading away.

They were nearly breathless when their lips reluctantly eased apart.  Joanna's voice quivered slightly as her inviting green eyes locked onto his.  "I beg your pardon, sir," she said.  "I think you just kissed me."

"And I think you just kissed me back," he replied with a knowing smile.

She drew a deep breath.  "I think you're right."

"Jo, I'm scheduled for a book signing on the Mag Mile this evening; maybe two or three hours at the most.  Then I'm free until my flight to Minneapolis leaves tomorrow morning.  Would you like to come back to the hotel with me? 

That still-beautiful face furrowed into a rare frown.  "Would I like to?" she asked.  "Hell, YES!"  She eased out of his embrace and took several steps back as though suddenly needing room to breathe.  She looked back toward him.  "But am I able to?"  She shook her head sadly.  "No, Ross, I'm not."

"I don’t understand, Jo.  That was no casual, friendly kiss."

She turned away from him again and brushed a tear from her eyes.  "Ross, I swear to God, I had no idea this was going to happen.  I had no idea that seeing you again would stir up so many feelings from thirty years ago.  All this time, I assumed what we had was dead and buried ... ancient history, you know?  I thought we'd reached a point where I was just one woman from your past and you were just one man from mine."

She turned back to face him and the shocked expression he wore.  "When I sent you that email, I thought we'd get together for a few hours, have a few drinks, a few laughs, talk about the old days, and then give each other a hug and get back to our own lives.  I'm not ashamed to tell you straight out that seeing you again has brought up a lot of old feelings, feelings that a part of me wants to act on; and I think I know you well enough to sense that you’re feeling the same way."

"Would that be so terrible?" he asked.

"Ross, if I was free to do what my heart was telling me, we'd be walking back to your hotel ... and we'd be walking real fast.  I'd spend tonight with you, and over breakfast we'd be talking about the chances of maybe giving things another try.  Is that what you’re feeling?"

He answered softly, "That's exactly what I’m feeling."

Through a deep, troubled sigh, she shook her head and declared, "I'm sorry ... it just can't happen."

"Why not, Jo?"

She glanced skyward as though searching the pastel blue autumn sky for help.  "Because there's somebody else in my life."

"You didn't mention anyone but Jerry while we were in the bar."

She chuckled nervously and kicked at a cluster of leaves at her feet.  "That’s because I didn't know how you'd react."

"Joanna, react to what?  Did you get married again?  Are you engaged?  Committed to someone?  Why don't you just tell me right out?"

"You want me to tell you about the person I'm committed to?  Okay, Ross, I'll tell you."  She moved back toward him and grasped his hands.  "Her name is Jeannie, and she's been my partner and my lover for a couple of years now.  That's who I'm committed to."

His expression froze as though his brain had slammed on the brakes and skidded to a screeching halt.  For the longest time, he waited for something to rise up from within him to define and drive his reaction to Joanna's revelation.  But nothing came out.  His emotions--normally intrusive and sometimes contradictory forces--were nowhere to be found.

How the hell do I react to this? he kept asking himself.  Should I be angry?  Should I be happy for her?  Should I feel contempt toward her?  Should I be repulsed?  Should I be pleased?  Should I feel betrayed?  Should I be agreeable?  Should I feel humiliated that the woman I loved was attracted to other women?  Should I ... WHAT?!

Without a word, he gently eased his hands from hers and moved away from her, turning away as though searching for the feelings that had abandoned him at this crucial moment.  All the familiar emotional forces that he'd relied upon all his life seemed suddenly trapped behind a wall of numbness, waiting for him to make this decision without them. 

Come on, damn you, he fumed, feel something!

But the circuits were overloaded and burning out, one after another.   Information was flying in all directions and being scrambled into gibberish.  Viewpoints, beliefs, values, and opinions were colliding with each other in mid-air like the autumn leaves and falling to the ground as flaming wreckage.  Hurricane Joanna had come ashore again and swept away the trusted signposts and landmarks that had guided him throughout his life.

Like it or not, this was a different situation, in a different time, involving a different person, and requiring a different reaction.

"Hey, Ross," she pleaded, "talk to me, huh?"

His mental scale wasn't merely knocked out of balance; it was on the verge of tipping over completely.

He turned back to face her, still at an undignified distance.  "Would you tell me something, Jo?" he asked, appearing quite overwhelmed.

"Like what?"

He swallowed deeply.  "When we were together, were you--"

"No, I wasn't," she replied briskly.

"How do you know what I was going to say?" he asked, a glimmer of annoyance in his voice.

"I lived with you for two years, remember?  And you are rather ... predictable."

"Okay, smarty.  What was I going to say?"

"You were going to ask if I was attracted to other women while we were together, and the answer is no.  Maybe it was always a part of me; I don’t know.  But I never really felt it or acted on it until I met Jeannie, and that was about a year or so after Jerry died."  She took a few tentative steps toward him in an attempt to bridge what had become an uncomfortable distance between the two ex-lovers; he did likewise.

"Are you … happy with Jeannie?"

She nodded, "Very much so."

"Is she good for you?"

"She's my roomie, my lover, my traveling companion, my friend, my sounding board, my confidante, my toughest critic, and my game-day bud all rolled into one."

He considered her answer for a few moments and then shrugged his shoulders.  “I guess the times they are a-changin’.”

“You always knew so much about music,” she laughed.  “When did that come out?”

“Oh, ’64 or ’65.”

“That’s a long time ago.”

“And fifty years later, the times are still a-changin’.”

“Times change, people change, attitudes change; ya gotta get with the program, Ross.”

He released a deep, resigned sigh.  "I guess anything goes these days.  What the hell.  If it works for you, who am I to say anything?"

She looked directly into his eyes.  "Are you mad at me?"

"Does it matter?"

"It does to me."

The author looked at her for a few moments, a bemused expression on his face.  Without a word, he opened his arms to her and they shared a quick, conciliatory hug.  Then, almost with a sense of relief, their hands joined again.  “No, I’m not mad at you, Jo.  Shocked as hell maybe, but not mad.  Considering how many times we made love while we were together, I guess I never figured you were a lesbian.”

“I don’t really consider myself a lesbian,” she countered with a shrug of her shoulders.  “The person I chose to spend my life with just happens to be a woman.”

He comically raised his arms to the sky and pompously intoned, "You have my blessing.  Go forth and conquer the world, my child."

"If I'm your child, then this is one very sick relationship."

Dispelling the awkwardness of the last few minutes, they laughed heartily, all the time still holding hands.  "You’re always full of surprises, aren’t you?” he said.

“And you wouldn’t have it any other way.”

She was right.

“Ross, you're an old fuddy-duddy, but you're okay."

"Joanna, of all the red-haired girls in this world, you’re my all-time favorite."

“Never a dull moment with me, huh?” she laughed.

Rolling his eyes, he answered, “I have to admit that I would’ve appreciated one of those every now and then.”

She shook her head.  “Ain’t never gonna happen.”

Sensing the impending end of their reunion, Joanna and the author fell into each others arms and kissed each other again.  This time, however, the intimacy was colored with a sense of sadness, of departure, of farewell, of not knowing when their paths might cross again; it felt very ninth-inning.

When their lips parted, she looked directly into his eyes and sensed the very same pallor of regret that was momentarily dampening her own normally-ebullient spirit.

Neither one truly wanted to let go … of that moment … of their memories … of passion unexpectedly reawakened … and of each other.

But it was time to move on.

“I’d better get going before we do something I’ll have a hard time explaining later,” she whispered.

“I think I’ll head back to the hotel and catch a quick nap before the signing tonight.  Tomorrow, I’m off to Minneapolis.  Time and tide and book tours wait for no man.”

“So, when’s your next book coming out?”

“At the rate it’s going, my grandchildren will have to finish it,” he chuckled worriedly.  “I keep running into one problem after another.  Sometimes I wonder if I’ll even finish the damned thing at all.”

She fixed her eyes to his, an uncharacteristic seriousness in her tone.  “Ross, I want you to promise me something.”

“Promise you what?”

“I want you to promise me that you will finish that book and get it out there.”

“Jo, it’s not that simple,” he demurred.  “I don’t like to make promises that—“

“Ross, I want you to promise me that you’ll get it done,” she repeated even more sternly.

Her facial expression—her eyes in particular—belied an urgency that Joanna didn’t often display.  He knew from experience that she was not joking by any means.  That stalled second novel seemed to hold some sort of special significance for her.  Clearly uneasy about making this commitment, he nevertheless embraced it … for her.
“Okay, Joanna,” he answered, “I’ll finish it and get it out there.  You have my word on it.”

“I’ll be waiting for my copy.”

“You’ll get it.”

“And I’ll expect it to be personally inscribed and autographed by the author.”

“Anything else?” he asked with half-hearted sarcasm.

After a moment’s thought, she smiled broadly and replied, “Yeah.  Dedicate it to your favorite red-haired girl.”

“What am I going to do with you?” he asked in mock disdain. 

“You’re gonna do me a favor.”

Suddenly, she reached into her shoulder bag and pulled out a pen and a paperback book with a cover very familiar to the author.  “I would’ve kicked myself if I’d forgotten about this.  On my way to the hotel, I stopped at a bookstore and picked up a copy of Child of Privilege.  Would you autograph it for me?”

Visibly touched by his ex-lover’s gesture, the author paused for a moment, then started scribbling on the inside cover.  “I’ll do better than that.”

“Don’t write anything dirty, okay?  I want this to be a keepsake.”

After he handed the book back to her, she opened it and read his words aloud: “I lovingly dedicate this book to Joanna, my favorite red-haired girl.  I’ll always treasure your laughter, your smile, and your love.  I’ll always treasure the moment in time that we were together.  Most of all, I’ll always treasure you.  Thank you for always being my favorite red-haired girl.  All my love forever, Ross.”

The golden autumn sunlight betrayed the presence of a tear in her eyes as she gazed at him in unabashed admiration.  You are a writer.  Don’t ever forget that.”

“I won’t.”

“And don’t forget that I’m waiting for that second novel.  You promised.”

“You’ll get it.  I promise.”

With a sense of great reluctance, they shared one longing, final embrace in the middle of Grant Park.  Neither wanted to let go of the other, to let go of what they’d shared that afternoon, or to let go of those feelings from three decades past.

But the fading sunlight was heralding the end of the day.

“There’s a little corner of my heart that’ll always be yours,” she whispered in his ear, emotion choking her voice.  “I love you, Ross.”

He held her tighter and kissed her cheek.  Teardrops began to sting his eyes.  “I love you, Joanna.  Always.”

With that patented smile of hers failing miserably to mask her tears, she eased himself from his arms, gave her former lover a quick wave, briskly turned, and started walking away.  He stood there, wanting to sear into his mind that last image of Joanna as she strode toward the Loop.

She had gone perhaps fifty feet when she abruptly stopped and turned back to face him.  “I just want you to know," she said, "that … I came so close to … spending tonight with you.  Ya still got it, kid.  See ya.”

A few minutes later, she disappeared into the noise, hubbub, and crowds of Chicago’s Loop. 

She was gone.

      *                                         *                                     *

The package arrived at the author’s home nearly a year to the day of that autumn afternoon.  His hands nearly shaking with anticipation, he ripped the heavy cardboard box open to be greeted with a mosaic of colors, graphics, and artistic fonts.

Welcome to the world, novel number two, he declared silently.  I hope you do even better than your older sister did.

He opened one of the paperback books, thumbed through the first pages and stopped.  A satisfied smile crossed his face as he read his own words: “I lovingly dedicate this book to Joanna, my favorite red-haired girl.  I’ll always treasure your laughter, your smile, and your love.  I’ll always treasure the moment in time that we were together.  Most of all, I’ll always treasure you.  Ya still got it, kid.  Love ya!”

Later than evening, he sat at his computer, but the words to novel number three weren’t coming just yet.  He poured another glass of wine, leaned back in his chair, and surrendered himself to the sense of relief and satisfaction that one of those newly-arrived books had been inscribed, signed, packaged, handed to the Postal Service, and was en route at that very moment to its intended recipient.

The author had fulfilled his promise to Joanna.  A good reason for a toast, he concluded, a damned good reason.

                   *                                 *                              *

One email stood out among the rest waiting patiently in the author’s Inbox: the one from Joanna’s email address.  Over a month had passed since he had sent his second novel to her.  So, what did she think of it? he wondered.  Like an excited child on Christmas morning, he opened the message and quickly began to read.

He had barely finished the first paragraph when he felt his throat constrict.  His vision blurred so badly that he was forced to turn his eyes away from the computer screen.

Joanna was dead.

At first, he couldn’t comprehend it.  He read and reread those words, but their heartbreaking message wouldn’t change.  How could a woman so full of life, so full of energy, and so full of joy be dead?  The author wondered if the email was some sort of sick joke.  Joanna?  Dead?  No.  It just didn’t seem possible.

After the first wave of tears had subsided, he continued reading the email which had been written by her partner Jeannie. 

Two weeks ago, Joanna and Jeannie had embarked on a camping trip into the Canadian wilderness.  After a long day of hiking, the two women had set up camp and were relaxing before preparing dinner.  She recalled Joanna being engrossed in his novel which she’d finished just before supper.

Later, as the women were preparing their sleeping bags for the night, Joanna suffered what was described as a massive stroke and was instantly paralyzed.  She fell helplessly to the ground, only semi-aware of her surroundings.  Minutes later, she died peacefully in her partner’s arms, surrounded by towering pine trees, cool breezes, a glorious sunset, and the quiet beauty of Mother Nature.

Jeannie offhandedly noted that Joanna had spent the entire evening meal literally gushing over his novel and telling some truly embarrassing stories about him.

He derived some token comfort in knowing that he had kept his final promise to her.  Perhaps his humble words were among the last to echo through her mind before she departed this life. 

The weeping started again.  He couldn’t stop it; nor did he want to.  Sadly, he turned off his computer, plunging the room into darkness, a darkness that paled in comparison to the darkness that had descended upon his soul.  He opened another bottle of wine, settled back in his chair, and cried for hours.

               *                                   *                               *

Perhaps drawing strength and inspiration from his ex-lover’s spirit, the author proceeded to pen an unprecedented string of novels, each capturing millions of readers’ imaginations and climbing to the heights of the best-seller list.  He soon became a stellar author and a ubiquitous presence on the world’s book-racks.

In the most fitting way he knew—though his words—he vowed to keep her memory alive.  Into each of his succeeding novels was written a character possessing at least some of Joanna’s qualities.  During those long hours of writing, there were times when he could almost feel her hugging him again as she had done on that autumn afternoon in Chicago.

On the dedication page of every novel he would write were these heartfelt words:

“I lovingly dedicate this book to Joanna, my favorite red-haired girl.  I’ll always treasure your laughter, your smile, and your love.  I’ll always treasure the moment in time that we were together.  Most of all, I’ll always treasure you.  Thank you for always being my favorite red-haired girl.  Ya still got it, kid.  Love ya!”

The End.

Your comments are welcome.

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