Many people think that romance writers sit on a glittering caftan with perfectly coiffed hair and makeup reclined on a chaise while holding a furry little lap dog. Sorry to disappoint. We are real people. Just like you.
I believe that everyone has a romance novel or two or more in their lifetime.
My first happened to begin with a “cute meet.”
I realize that I have spent my married life picking up strays. Come to think of it, Bill was a stray.
I met Bill in the most unconventional way. I was twenty-three, ending a retail career and beginning an outside sales career. Still living at home to stash away money, I spent some of my free time shopping with my mother. Going to nearby Randall Park Mall was a convenient entertainment. My mother used to lament, “You’ll never get a husband shopping in the mall with your mother.” She had to eat her words.
In walking down a mall corridor, my mom noticed that a new fast food restaurant was being added. Ever curious, she had to see the Church’s Chicken outlet. It should have been an omen. Chicken restaurants are not the place to meet the man you’re destined to marry! A man, guess who, was standing inside and he asked how we liked the interiors. What could one say about a palate of garish orange and yellow?
In gazing at me, he commented, “With hands like yours, you should be in the movies.”
I was not impressed. I had met “mall-mashers” before … those annoying older men who hit on younger women while shopping in the mall. Let’s see. There was the glassblower when I turned 21, the high school student when I was a college grad and a all-to-young guy who “liked my hair.” Ugh! This man seemed to be no exception. With salt and pepper hair, a moustache, an unstylish look and an assertive demeanor, I was not impressed.
My mom found his comment interesting. After all, she lived in an era where Lana Turner had been discovered by Hollywood in a drugstore.
We chatted. The man was an architectural photographer hired by the restaurant’s franchise owner to take interior pictures of the new outlet. While he was waiting for workers to complete the job, he had been standing around observing those who passed by. I caught his eye.
With a gift for gab, the man explained that women with lovely hands like mine (I had very real, very long, very red fingernails at the time … the kind of nails single women have) I could be paid to hand model. Bullshit. I figured it was just a pick-up line.
My mom found the idea fascinating. With that, the man gave her his business card and asked me for my phone number. I was hesitant but my mom felt I should take the chance. I wrote my first name and telephone number in microscopic letters on a postage-stamp sized piece of paper, figuring her would lose it.
This was not “love at first sight.” It wasn’t even “like.” I thought the man was a bit old, too pushy and a pick-up artist.
He was a stray.
Divorced ten years, Bill lived alone with his tri-colored Collie, Jettie, and started his own architectural photography business from scratch after he had lost his mother, wife, his home and his job. His previous job had been selling contract furniture for a carriage trade interior design firm at Shaker Square that went out of business. Prior to that, he worked in the medical-surgical supply business. His grandfather founded The Schuemann-Jones Company, a well-regarded medical-surgical supply firm in Cleveland with several branches and a stellar reputation. From birth Bill had been groomed to become an executive with the firm. When his father and uncle sold the firm to a larger conglomerate, Bill was contracted to stay on as an employee for a set time. After, he went to work for the interior design firm. It was at the firm where he dabbled in architectural photography, photography having been his passion since his father placed a Brownie camera in his hands at the age of eight. He spent his college years at Arizona State making money photographing sorority and fraternity parties and his free time traversing the West in search of nature photographs.
Within a short period of time, Bill’s mother died (of pancreatic cancer), his wife of ten years divorced him and he had to seek a new home and his employer went out of business and he had to find a new job.
He purchased a lovely house, began his business and adopted the Collie as a companion who shared his life so completely she even was taken on photography shoots.
Then, he met me.
Bill had had many girlfriends but for some reason found me, a blue-collar girl fifteen years his junior interesting.
I was naïve for my age, hadn’t dated much and never had a serious relationship. I grew up rather sheltered and protected. I was shy, awkward and lacked self-esteem and self-confidence. I was quiet and couldn’t look another person in the eye. For me to have had a career in sales was amazing enough. To survive, I was like an actress. After all, I used to quote Neeli in “Valley of the Dolls” who said “Sparkle, sparkle.”
After meeting in the mall, Bill called my home frequently enough to become a pest. Even my mother was having second thoughts about having given him my telephone number. After making excuses, I had to talk to him if only to get the calls to cease. To my mother’s amazement, my first conversation with Bill lasted three hours. He was really interesting. Subsequent phone calls were equally as fascinating. He wanted us to meet for lunch to discuss my hand modeling career. Right. In the meantime I had conducted research on him. A cautious person, I’m not one to date complete strangers. I went to the library and checked him out in the City Directory. When he had mentioned a business professor of mine at John Carroll University having been a family friend, I met with the professor. Dr. Michael gave Bill legitimacy and I had a deeper understanding of who he was. Feeling safe, I agreed to meet Bill for lunch.
We met at Houlihan’s, a fun antique-filled bistro. I arrived first. Time passed and I thought I was being stood up. A voice called my name and I looked up.
The man standing before me couldn’t possibly be the same man I met in the mall. No way! This man was tall, elegant and refined in a navy pinstripe suit and black overcoat. The pale blue of his shirt accented his blue eyes and salt and pepper hair. The cleft in his chin was charming. His smile was radiant. As a girl I had fantasized about meeting Cary Grant. This man came as close to that fantasy as I could ever imagine. I was star struck. This was not the reaction I had expected.
Maintaining a professional manner was difficult but I succeeded. Bill penetrated my icy shell with humor. During lunch, he had mentioned the possibility of us going out to a movie or something. This time, unlike in the mall, the idea of his wanting to date me seemed like a fun idea.