Linda Weaver Clarke

Her Lost Love

Chapter 1

Amelia Moore looked at her appointment book and could not control the excitement she felt as she anticipated meeting her next client. When Amelia first received the call, she was elated that a lawyer of this caliber and reputation would ask for help. She had helped several lawyers in the past, but this was the first time Julie Anderson had called. Amelia had read about the lawyer's cases in the paper and knew Ms. Anderson always worked hard to prove her client's innocence.

Amelia looked down at her black skirt and smoothed it with her hands. The style of her purple top matched her skirt well. Pulling a hand mirror out of the drawer, she examined her hair and makeup. As she smoothed her hand over her short honey brown hair, Amelia heard the door open. She quickly put the mirror away and looked up.

Julie Anderson walked into the office right on time. At the age of forty-three, she was an elegant and beautiful woman. The pictures in the papers did not do her justice. She had long blonde hair down to her shoulders, and she wore a dark blue pantsuit with a white blouse.

As Amelia watched Julie Anderson take a seat in front of her desk, she wondered why the lawyer had never married. She imagined a successful and beautiful woman like Ms. Anderson would have had many suitors. According to the gossip, Amelia heard that a certain former senator was interested in her.

With a smile, Amelia motioned toward an office chair in front of her desk and said, "What can I do for you, Ms. Anderson?"

The woman placed her briefcase on the floor beside her and said, "Please call me Julie. I feel as if I already know you. I've heard so much about you and your cases. Some friends at the office said you specialize in missing persons and highly recommended you."

Amelia was pleased to hear the Moore Detective Agency had a good reputation. She had worked hard as a private investigator. With the help of Rick Bonito, her business partner, it was flourishing.

Amelia Moore was in her thirties. As a rule, she usually wore a black skirt to the office because she wanted to look professional at all times.

She took a seat and pulled a notepad and pen from her desk drawer. "Tell me what I can do to help you."

Julie leaned toward her and said soberly, "This is personal. It has nothing to do with any of the cases I'm working on."

Amelia raised her brow curiously. "Oh?"

Julie licked her lips nervously. "I need you to find someone who is very dear to me." She looked at Amelia with intensity. "When I was eighteen, my parents sent me off to college to become a lawyer and we lost contact with one another. I want to know what happened to him."

Amelia nodded with understanding and said, "Start at the beginning."

Julie opened her briefcase and took some items out. As she placed them on her lap, Julie said, "His name is Joseph Yancey Witherbee. He always printed his name as Joe Y. Witherbee, so I called him Joey just for fun, by adding his middle initial to his name."

Amelia noticed how her face brightened at the memory. She listened with great curiosity as Julie continued.

"Joey thought the nickname was cute," said Julie. "I was only eight years old when we met. He was my neighbor and we became the best of friends. He was two years older but that didn't stop us from chumming around. We were inseparable. We'd climb trees together, go fishing and swimming. He even let me join his baseball team when the other boys said girls weren't allowed."

"So was he just a good friend?"

Julie smiled and shook her head. "Much more! When I turned fourteen, I realized my feelings for him were changing, but he only thought of me as a friend at the time. Although, having braces probably didn't help at all."

Amelia laughed. "I remember those days myself. So what happened?"

"After he graduated, he took off for college. When he came home for summer break the following year, I was sixteen. I'd changed. I wasn't that clumsy skinny kid any more. My braces were gone and I'd learned to use makeup. I was a shapely young woman and he noticed it, too."

Amelia laughed. The story of this elegant woman was intriguing to her and she wanted to hear more.

Julie smiled and continued. "Joey didn't treat me like a tomboy any more. When I saw how he was looking at me and how tongue-tied he was, I suggested that we go fishing like the good old days and we'd take along a picnic. We had so much fun that summer. Our last day together, before he went back to college, was wonderful."

Julie glanced at the special memories she had placed on her lap. "That was when I received my first kiss. I no longer could say I was sweet sixteen and never been kissed."

Amelia placed her pad on the desk. She realized she had become so interested in her client's story that she had forgotten to take notes.

Julie took a picture from an envelope and handed it to Amelia. It was a photo of Julie and a young man with their arms wrapped around each other. In the background was a Ferris Wheel. Amelia looked up at Julie and could still see the likeness of her in the photo.

Motioning to the picture, Julie said, "That's Joey and me. Everyone called us J and J."

Amelia noticed in the corner of the photo where Joey had written: To My Dearest J. With love, J.

"When I graduated from high school, Joey made a point of coming home to see me graduate." Julie pointed to the photo and said, "He then took me to a carnival to celebrate and it was so much fun. That was where this photo was taken."

Julie then took a tiny box from her lap and held it affectionately. "While we were there, Joey won a few prizes, but there was this one booth..." She looked at the box in her hand. "He had to shoot moving objects to get this one."

She opened the box and exposed a lovely ring. When Julie looked up and smiled, Amelia could tell that it was a precious memory.

"It's not a real diamond," said Julie. "But it might as well have been. Right after winning it, Joey took me canoeing. When we got to the middle of the lake, he put this ring on my finger and told me how much he loved me. He said he would graduate from college in two years and asked me to wait for him. I was so delighted that I flung my arms around him and tipped the canoe over." Julie laughed. "We were drenched, but we didn't care. We were in love."

As Julie laughed at the memory, Amelia could see the joy in the woman's eyes. Just talking about this young man seemed to bring back a sort of youthfulness in her countenance.

"I felt I was old enough to make my own decisions," said Julie. "So I went home and told my parents I was going steady with Joey. When he graduated in two years, I was going to marry him. Needless to say, they weren't happy about it. My father wanted me to wait until I had gotten my degree in law before making any plans for marriage, but I was stubborn and wouldn't listen." She shook her head. "Do you know how many years it takes to get a law degree?"

Amelia nodded.

"I was not about to wait until I graduated." Julie closed the tiny box and put it in her briefcase. "I was stubborn."

Amelia laughed. "That's not a bad thing. That's why you win most of your cases."

Julie grinned at the compliment. "Well, after a wonderful summer together, we went our separate ways. We wrote faithfully for the next two years and then all of a sudden he quit writing. In his last letter he told me that he was going to be quite busy and to not worry if I didn't get a letter for a while. When a month went by, I began to worry that he was upset with me."

Amelia leaned forward and asked curiously, "Why would he be upset?"

"Because we had been talking about marriage on the phone. My parents convinced me that I would probably never finish college if I married Joey and he may not be able to support me right after graduation. This was unsettling to me. I didn't know what to do. So I told him I wasn't ready and we should wait for a while."

Amelia's heart went out to Julie when she saw the sorrow in her face.

Taking a deep breath, Julie said, "My parents came up with a great idea. They said they would pay for the rest of my education, the wedding, and even a honeymoon if I postponed the wedding and graduated first. When he asked me how long that would take, I told him I had six years to go. I would have to do an internship, too. He wasn't happy about it."

Amelia nodded. "So he thought it was too long to wait?"

"Yes. We didn't hang up on a good note. When I didn't hear from him for a month, I finally wrote to him but the letter was returned. Someone had written on the envelope that he no longer lived there. I was worried so I called the college. They said they knew nothing of his whereabouts. I didn't give up, though. I called his archaeology buddy."

Amelia leaned back in her seat and folded her arms. "What did you find out?"

With a sigh, Julie said, "He acted very strange, like he had never heard of me. I know Joey told him about me because he mentioned how his buddies teased him mercilessly... saying he couldn't think straight because of me." She looked at Amelia quizzically. "So why didn't he remember me?"

"Did you say an archaeology buddy?"

"Oh. I forgot to tell you. Joey's major was archaeology."

"What was his buddy's name?"

"Robert Brown."

"Did Brown know where Mr. Witherbee was?"

She shook her head. "He figured Joey was probably out in the field doing work on an archaeology site. Sometimes a person can stay for a few weeks. When I told him to have Joey call me when he got back, Robert said he didn't know if he'd be seeing him. That confused me because school wasn't out yet."

"Maybe they had a falling out."

"Could be." Julie shrugged. "But that wasn't all. When I called his parents' home, the number was disconnected. I soon found out that his parents had moved and the home was up for sale. I couldn't figure out what was going on. Why hadn't he written?"

"I bet it was hard to forget him," said Amelia.

"It sure was. So I buried myself in my books and classes. I'd made a few friends, so that made it easier. But every now and then I wondered if he had found his fortune and if he'd return for me." She gave an indecisive shrug. "I eventually got over him. It took a while, though."

"So did you ever find out why he quit writing?" asked Amelia.

Julie shook her head. "No, I didn't. My parents wouldn't even help me because dad wanted me to follow in his footsteps and be a successful lawyer. He said he was worried that I would not get my degree because of Joey and it was best to just let things be until I graduated. That was twenty-four years ago."

Amelia folded her arms and rested them on her desk, as she asked curiously, "So why have you decided to find him now? After all these years?"

Giving a sigh, Julie said, "As you probably heard through the grapevine, I've been dating our former senator for quite some time."

Amelia nodded. "Senator Fox."

"Yes. He asked me to marry him." Julie shrugged. "Actually, he asked me several times but I kept putting him off, saying I needed more time. Just last week, he begged me to take him more seriously. So I finally asked my mother's advice. I felt she could give me some sort of insight... a reason why I've been putting him off."

Amelia nodded as she took a few notes. Looking up, she said, "Good choice. I always go to my grandparents when I need help in making decisions. They're so wise."

"Exactly," Julie said firmly. "As we talked, Mama told me how sorry she was for not helping me find Joey. Then she said something that floored me. I couldn't believe my ears. She said she could have checked with his parents before they moved but was worried I wouldn't graduate if she had.'

'Oh, no!'

Julie blinked a few times, as if trying to stop the tears from forming, and said, "Mama told me that it was all her fault I never married, because I was still in love with Joey and no man could ever measure up to him. As I thought about it, I realized she was right."

Amelia was saddened. So that was why Julie Anderson, a successful lawyer and an attractive woman in her mid forties, was still unmarried.

Julie pulled out a bundle of letters and placed them on the desk. "These are from Joey." A tear trickled down her face as she looked at the letters. "I went home after we talked… went straight to my cedar chest full of treasures and pulled out Joey's letters. I figured that if I read them, it would help me make a decision about my future. I had to move on."

"Did it help?"

Julie groaned and shook her head. "Not one bit. It made my decision more complicated. As I read each letter, it brought back wonderful memories we shared with one another. In each letter, he reminisced about the things we did growing up and how silly we were. He told me about college and the friends he was making. In each letter he told me how much he loved me and he said no other woman could measure up to me."

"Wow," said Amelia. "He's certainly romantic."

Julie took a handkerchief from her purse and wiped the tears from her cheeks. "We were in love, Miss Moore, and reading those letters brought back fond memories once again."

"You can call me Amelia," she said softly.

Julie nodded. "That night I started dreaming about him and couldn't get him out of my mind. So I realized that if I was going to have any peace, I had to find him. I can't accept a proposal of marriage without knowing what happened to Joey. Will you please find out what has become of him?"

Amelia jotted a few things on her notepad to check. She then interlaced her fingers and said to her new client, "You have to know this might not turn out happily-ever-after. He may be married or may have passed away."

Julie nodded. "I know, but I can't concentrate on my cases. I just have to find out what happened to him. I'll be prepared for the worst."

Amelia motioned to the letters. "I hope you don't mind, but it would help a great deal if I could read those. I need to see what places he went to regularly and the people he talked about. His letters might have some clues why he disappeared."

Julie shook her head. "I don't mind."

Amelia took the photo of Julie and Joe and looked at it. They were such a cute couple wrapped in one another's arms. She quickly scanned it into her computer so she could use it in her investigation. Pushing the print button, a nice copy appeared.

Handing it back to Julie, she said, "I'll need all the names and phone numbers of everyone who knew Joe. Addresses and phone numbers, if you have them, would be great. Don't leave anyone off the list. Get that to me as soon as…"

Julie smiled and handed her a list of names. "I've hired a few private investigators before. I knew exactly what to bring."

Amelia laughed as she scanned down the list. "Great! I'll get right to it."

As Julie got to her feet, she said, "Please keep this hush-hush. I don't want it to get out that I have a problem to solve before accepting Dwayne's proposal. It would really embarrass him. The only person that knows I've got a problem is my secretary, but she doesn't know what it is. She overheard me talking to my mom on the phone when she walked in on me unannounced. Other than that, my friends at the office think I'm finding a detective for one of my cases."

"I understand."

After Julie left, Amelia picked up the phone and dialed Rick Bonito, her business partner. He could help her with this case. She smiled as she thought about him. He was in his mid-thirties with chocolate brown hair, dark eyes, and an olive complexion. His dark stubble was close to his face and Amelia rather liked it. The stubble-look was his signature. To Amelia, Rick was more than just a partner. He was a close friend and confidant.

After leaving a message on his phone, she thought about her new assignment. Amelia was intrigued. The thought of finding a long-lost love seemed quite romantic to her. It had been twenty-four years since they had seen one another. The one thing that worried Amelia was whether he was happily married. At the age of forty-five, he most likely was... unless he was married to his work like her client seemed to be.