Adeline Parks smiled to herself as she strolled through the park. It was a beautiful spring day and she could not wait to take some pictures. She checked her digital camera and nodded. She had remembered to charge her batteries earlier, but brought a spare battery just in case. She wasn’t taking any chances today.
She was a photojournalist at the local newspaper, and the editor had called her the night before.
“Ad, I need you to get me some snapshots tomorrow,” he said in his deep voice.
“Snapshots? Okay, what do you need?”
“We’re running a series on the beauty of our city in spring,” he explained. “I’d like you to get shots of nice places where groups of people gather and celebrate, somewhere with fun events, shows—that sort of thing. You get the idea? Something that reflects the atmosphere in the city around this time of year.”
“Sure, I get it. How soon do you need them?”
“By tomorrow afternoon.”
“You don’t need to come to the office, just send them to me by email wherever you are. Once I review them, I might call to ask you to retake the shots from different angles. So you need to send them to me piecemeal, do you understand?”
As Adeline wandered around the park, she knew she had found the right spot. All around her, she could see people—sitting in the shade, talking, eating near the fast food stalls, walking through the lush gardens. In the playground, she could see some kids running while others played on the swings.
It was a warm and an inviting atmosphere. Adeline pulled out her camera and opened the lens. She began to zoom in on some of the groups. As she moved around, she took pictures of people who caught her interest.
After taking a few shots, she paused by a tree and began to forward them to the editor. Then she went to an ice cream stall and ordered a cup of vanilla ice cream.
Shortly, she got a call. “Ad, these shots are wonderful!”
“Thank you, sir.”
“You’re still in the park, right?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Good. I’d like you to get a shot of people coming in through one of the park entrances.”
Adeline glanced in the direction of the nearest entrance. “Do you have any particular entrance in mind?”
“No, just any entrance with people going in and out of the park. The concept we want to portray is that just as people stroll into the park, so does the city stroll into spring. Got it?”
“Yes, sir. Let me get you some shots right away.”
She grabbed her ice cream and picked up her camera. As she was about to head towards one of the entrances, she saw him.
He was wearing faded blue jeans with a worn-out white t-shirt.
Adeline could not say for sure what it was that caught her attention.
Maybe it was his blonde hair. Maybe it was the way he was sitting all alone on the long bench. Adeline looked at him closely. He seemed oblivious to everything that was happening in the park.
And those eyes of his!
Adeline could not help but notice his eyes. They were gorgeous. Adeline found herself staring at his face. She could not help but think how striking his eyes were. They were so big, so prominent and so beautiful. The kind of eyes that you could stare into for hours.
She snapped out of her daze and reached for her camera. She felt herself blushing. She had been so carried away by this mysterious man that she had momentarily forgotten about her job. She zoomed in on him and began taking photos.
He wasn’t looking in her direction. Rather, he was gazing off into the park.
After she had taken a few pictures, she paused to send them to her editor. While she was waiting for his feedback, she took another glance at the man. She almost jumped when she discovered that he was staring at her intently.
She looked away then gradually, she turned to look back at him with a smile. I should at least smile at him, she reasoned.
He was still staring at her. That was when she noticed the heaviness in his eyes. There was no doubt that they were beautiful, but she could not deny the sadness that was in them.
Her phone rang. “Ad, I loved the photos you just sent me! Is that man still in the park?”
“Yes, he is, sir.”
“When did you see him?”
“Just now, as I was on my way to one of the entrances.”
“I see. I don’t blame you—you must have been attracted to his pose and the scenery around him. That angle is just right.”
“So you liked the photos, sir?”
“I sure do. And so do the others on the editorial team. In fact, we’re just wondering which to use. You can forget about getting me those shots of the entrance.”
“Are you sure?”
“Just park that for now. Is that man still nearby?”
“Great. I need you to get a close-up shot of him.”
“Yes, a portrait shot. Just talk to him—we’ll pay him. Once you are done, then you can go for the shots of the entrance, alright?”
“Yes, sir. I’ll get his portrait shots, then head over to the entrance.”
Once the line went dead, Adeline took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. She glanced in the direction of the man, but saw that he was no longer watching her. As she walked up to him, she thought over what she intended to say. What she was about to do was not unusual. Sometimes photojournalists were commissioned to take pictures of certain people—a couple, a family, an entire company. But she did not understand why she found this request unnerving.
Is it because of his eyes, those beautiful eyes? She wondered.
As she got closer, Adeline put on a sweet smile. “Hello,” she said.
The man turned to look at her with those beautiful, round eyes of his. She could see that they were grey. And they were heavy, as if he had been asleep, crying, or both.
“Hi,” he simply said.
Adeline sank into the seat by his side. “My name is Adeline Parks. I’m a photojournalist for the Metropolitan Weekly.”
The man nodded, but he didn’t smile. “I’m Joey.”
“Joey? That’s a lovely name.”
“And so is Adeline.”
“Thank you, but you can call me Ad. Everybody calls me that.”
“I prefer Adeline.”
“Okay, whatever you want is fine.”
“I think I’ll stick with Adeline.”
“Sure. So, how are you today, Joey?”
“I spotted you way back over there,” she said, pointing to where she had been standing earlier. “And I couldn’t help but notice how dashing you looked.”
“Dashing?” he asked, before glancing down at his faded clothes. It was clear that he felt self-conscious.
“Yes, dashing.” She blushed a bit. “My editor and his team at the office want me to get some more photos of you.”
Joey blinked his beautiful eyes at her. “More photos?”
“Yes,” Adeline nodded, holding out the camera to show him the latest one she took. “I already sent them some random shots of people in the park today. They seemed to be attracted to yours and they want more.”
Joey gazed at the photo on the camera. “You’ve been taking my pictures already?”
“Yes, I have. We’re working on an article about spring time and the people of this city.”
“So, if it’s alright, can I take a few more photos of you please?”
He looked away. “I’m really not in the mood to take any pictures.”
“But that’s just it, we don’t need you to be in any mood at all. We want something natural.”
He turned to look at her. The sadness was so palpable that his eyes almost seemed to water. “I really don’t want to take pictures.”
“Is everything alright?” Adeline found herself asking.
“Yes, I just don’t want to take any pictures.”
“No, seriously. Beyond taking pictures, are you alright? You look so sad.”
“I’m fine. I just don’t want any—”
“We’d pay you for the shots.” she interrupted. “We’ll pay you for your pictures, Joey.”
“Absolutely, Joey. You wouldn’t regret it.”
A glint seemed to shine in his eyes. “Okay. How do you want me to pose?”
Adeline gave Joey a few directions. After a couple shots, she looked at him. “Can you smile a little?”
He shook his head. “I’m fine like this. I don’t want to smile. Do you have a problem with that?”
“My boss thought you were okay before, so let me just send these to him and see what he thinks.”
“What else are you covering today?” Joey asked, as she sent the latest pictures.
“People going in and out through the entrances of the park.”
“There are so many entrances,” Joey glanced around. “Which one will you use?”
“Whichever is closest to where we are right now.”
“Just the closest?”
“Yes, in case my editor calls me to get another shot of you,” she smiled.
“You don’t have to worry about me. I’ll be right here.”
“I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be right here if you want me.”
“Actually, why don’t you just come with me to the nearest entrance? If they need more shots of you, we can try a new location close to the gate.”
They walked together towards the nearest entrance.
“You are really good at your job,” Joey observed, as she considered where to place him.
“Why do you say that?”
“I mean, for your editor to suggest that you get more of my shots—shots you took without arranging my pose or the lighting. You really must be a good photographer.”
“No, not a photographer. I’m a photojournalist. There’s a difference between the two, Joey.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes, a photographer takes pictures, while a photojournalist tells stories using pictures.”
“I see what you mean.”
“I’m glad you do,” Adeline smiled at him as she readied the lens on her camera. “So, what’s your story?”
From the corner of her eye, she saw Joey hesitate.
Adeline took a couple quick shots of people walking in through the gate. Then she turned to look at him. “Your story, Joey. What’s your story?”
“I don’t have a good story to tell. I doubt it’s something you would be interested in.”
“Well, we’re interested in your pictures, aren’t we?”
“But are you sure you’d all be interested in my story?”
“Sure. We—” Adeline began to say when she received a call. It was her editor. “Hello, sir.”
“Ad, these are brilliant shots. Can we get more of him?”
“Of course, sir.”
“I hope he’s still there with you?”
“Yes, he is.”
“Good. Take a few more of him and try different backgrounds, okay?”
“Good job,” the editor said before dropping the call.
She turned to Joey. “Didn’t I tell you? They loved the shots, Joey.”
“They did? That’s great.”
Adeline did not see his eyes register any hint of excitement.
“Great? This is awesome! Don’t you see? That’s going to mean more money for you.”
“Well, the money will be really useful for me.”
“Yes, it will,” Adeline agreed. “Now we just need to get more locations and then a story to attach to all these shots.”
“A story?” Joey asked as Adeline began to scan around the park.
“Yes, Joey. Go on, out with it—what’s your story?”
“Are you sure your people are interested in my story?”
“Joey? Are you kidding? They love your shots—they might even recommend you for a modelling career with an agency, who knows? Of course they’d want to hear your story.”
“I’m not so sure about that.”
“While you’re thinking, could you just stand over there please? Next to those red lilies by the water fountain.”
“Is here okay?”
“Brilliant. So, what’s your story?”
“I ran away from my hometown.”
Adeline had taken several shots when he made his statement. Her jaw dropped and she was staring at him agape. “You did what?”
“I’m from San Francisco,” Joey clarified, not breaking eye contact. “I ran away.”
She lowered her camera. “Why would you do that?”
“It’s a long story, Adeline. I really doubt that I can bring myself to tell you anything more, at least not today.”
“Okay, but you have to give me something. My editor will insist we have something to go with your photos.”
“You can tell him anything. I don’t mind.”
“I just need something to start with!”
“You already have it. I’m from San Francisco and I came here.”
“Come on, help me out a bit.”
“I don’t have any other story to tell.”
“Everybody has a story to tell.”
“But that’s it. That’s my story.”
“You know what? I think we’ve taken quite a lot of shots. Why don’t we take a break?”
They sat down on an empty bench. After ordering some donuts and coffee, they began talking.
But she noticed that Joey barely spoke. He seemed to detest talking about himself.
The next day, while she was at the office, she called Joey. She had been pleasantly surprised that he let her have his phone number before she left the park yesterday. “Hello, Joey. How are you?”
“I’m okay,” he replied in the flat tone that she was already quite used to. “How’s work going?”
“Wonderful. Your payment for the photos is ready. Can you please give me your account details so that it can be transferred to you right away?”
“I’ll text it to you.”
“That would be great. And by the way, I was wondering if we could maybe meet up this evening?”
“Because I want to.”
“Because I’d really like to see you again.”
There was a pause as Joey seemed to contemplate on whether to agree or not. “I don’t know where we could go to,” he finally said.
“Don’t worry, I can think of a few places.”
Later that evening, they met for a walk in the park and had dinner together. They met again over the next few days as well. Soon, it became a regular thing for them to go on lunch and dinner dates. But no matter how hard Adeline tried, she just could not bring Joey out of his shell.
He was severely depressed. He wouldn’t open up to her about himself. All she knew was that he was unhappy, but he was not willing to tell her why.
Four months passed since the beginning of their friendship. Then one day Joey just disappeared. Adeline called his number frantically, but it had been disconnected. She checked all the places she knew he was likely to be, but he was not there. She even checked the places they visited regularly. She still couldn’t find him.
Gradually, as all possibilities of finding him thinned out, she convinced herself that Joey had gone back home to San Francisco.
Adeline felt distraught and confused. She wondered if she should have done more to make him talk. That he was deeply depressed was an understatement. But she knew that she had tried everything she could as a friend to make him talk to her.
Joey did not like speaking to anyone except her. In all the time that they spent together, he never spoke of any friends or family. It was just him. This made meeting any of his family and friends an impossible task.
If that wasn’t enough, Joey also refused to meet her own family and friends. He preferred being alone with her.
The only thing she knew was that he had run away from his family in San Francisco. But which family was that? San Francisco was such a huge city. If she went there to search for Joey’s family, it would be like searching for a needle in a haystack. She didn’t know anything else about him. All she knew was that his name was Joey.
Adeline found his absence taking a serious toll on her. She was jumpy at work, uneasy around her colleagues and friends. When people would ask her what was wrong, she would become defensive and antagonistic, because she couldn’t explain that her friend was missing when no one else knew who he was.
But the most painful aspect was that she didn’t have any clue about what might have happened to him. She had to bear his disappearance alone and in the dark.
It was a very painful burden for her to bear.
A few months later, on a cool summer night, Adeline was in bed and wide awake. No matter how hard she tried, sleep kept eluding her. She usually found it fairly easy to fall sleep, but on that particular night it was impossible. She kept tossing and turning until she finally gave up.
Adeline sat up in bed. As she tried to clear her head, she gasped out of shock and horror.
Joey was standing right at the edge of her bed. She did not know how long he had been there, watching her silently.
“Joey? What the hell are you doing here?” she cried out.
But he did not respond—he just stood there watching her with his huge, beautiful eyes.
“Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick,” she cried, trying to calm her racing heart.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said finally, in that monotone voice that she hadn’t heard in so long. “I know it might sound strange to you, but I missed you, Adeline. I missed you a lot.”
“Strange? That’s not strange at all—I missed you too.”
“And guess what, Adeline? You were absolutely right.”
She blinked and frowned. “Right? About what, Joey? What’s wrong? Did something happen to you?” Adeline got out of bed and took a step forward, moving closer towards him. She was watching his face, that same face that she had seen every day for several months. It still looked sad, with his beautiful, heavy eyes lowered. He seemed to look even sadder now that he was standing in her room. There was something about him that was freaking her out—how did he get into my locked house and my bedroom anyway?
“I’m really sorry, Adeline,” he said again, as if in response to the myriad thoughts that were zooming through her mind at that moment. Then she noticed that he was backing away from her. Or was it just her imagination? No, it wasn’t. Though she was slowly approaching him, the distance between them remained the same—which meant that he was moving backwards at the same pace. But that seemed odd because she had taken a few steps now. When is he going to hit the door? she wondered.
Adeline felt fear rise up inside her chest. She could feel her heart thumping erratically. “What is it, Joey? What’s going on?”
“I was so wrong, Adeline. I’m so sorry. Please, forgive me.”
She nodded hastily. “It’s alright, Joey. It’s fine. You don’t need to apologise. Come, come and sit down,” she pleaded as she reached for his hand. But rather than hold her hand, he only shook his head and pulled away. Adeline bit her lip and looked more closely at her friend. He looked terrible, and the expression in his eyes was killing her.
Just then, through her window, she saw a car pull up to the curb in front of her townhouse. She squinted at it and realised that it was a police car.
She took her eyes away from the window for a second to look at him. “No?”
“No, Adeline. I can’t sit down. I can’t stay, I’ve got to go. But I’ll see you soon. I will. I’ll come back.”
She could see him smile. This was the first time she had ever seen him smile. “Joey, don’t go! Please stay.” She reached out for him just as someone began knocking on her front door.
“I love you, Adeline. I’ll see you later,” he said and turned away. He walked through her bedroom door, which she noticed was unexpectedly open. Adeline followed him out of the room, but suddenly couldn’t see him in the corridor. She glanced back inside her room, but he wasn’t there either. She was sure she had followed him out of her room, so why wasn’t he anywhere in sight?
The knocking on her front door grew louder, making her snap out of her confusion. She went to answer it, quickly pushing aside her thoughts of Joey.
“Good evening, Miss. I’m sorry to disturb you at this late hour. Are you Adeline Parks?”
“Yes, that’s me, I’m Adeline Parks.”
“I’m sorry to wake you up. Can I speak with you inside for a moment?”
“Sure, why not?”
He took a seat on her living room sofa, then addressed her cautiously. “Do you know a man named Joey?”
She felt her heart skip a beat. “Joey?”
“Yes, that was his name,” the officer said, bringing out a copy of the Metropolitan Weekly from his pocket. It was folded. He unfolded it to show her one of the pictures she took of Joey in the park.
“Wait, did you just say ‘was’?”
“It seems like you were the only person who knew him, Miss Parks.”
“I don’t understand. What do you mean by that?”
“I am very sorry, Miss Parks. We found his body out in a field. The coroner says he must have been dead for over a month now. It was a suicide. He shot himself in the head.”
Adeline was shaking her head as she stood up slowly. “What? No. That can’t be Joey. I just saw him.”
“Joey, of course.”
“That’s not possible.”
“Not possible?” Adeline repeated. “But he was here just a while ago, right before you came. Joey was here.”
“It’s okay, Miss Parks. Perhaps you are in shock. I am so sorry for your loss.”
After the cop left, Adeline sat down heavily on her sofa. She was in a state of confusion. She tried to analyse her thoughts.
They must have the wrong man.
Joey can’t be dead.
But she had to admit that she was not too surprised about the whole suicide thing. After all, he had been severely depressed.
But how could he have been dead for a month? I just saw him!
Adeline shook her head. She just couldn’t believe it.
Nine days later, while Adeline was having a shower, she heard a noise in the bathroom. Turning off the shower, she peeped through the shower curtain.
There, standing in her bathroom, was Joey.
“Joey!” she screamed. “My goodness, you scared me!”
He sighed as she wrapped herself in her bathrobe and came out of the shower, still dripping wet.
“I’m really, really sorry.”
“That’s alright. Joey, what’s going on? What’s really happening?”
“I came back to tell you...” He paused for a minute, then began slowly. “Things got harder after I ran away from home. So I decided it was time to try going back to San Francisco. But that was worse, worse than before—especially now that I’d met you. I didn’t know what to do after that, because I’d lost my phone. I’d lost your number. It was suddenly all too much for me. Then I stole a gun.”
“Oh, Joey!” she cried. “You should have told me, I would have gone with you to San Francisco!”
“That’s why I’m sorry, Adeline. I am so sorry.”
“So, you… you’re dead now?”
He looked at her with those big beautiful eyes of his. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
She covered her mouth as if to stop herself from screaming. “You’re a ghost?”
He smiled again, weakly. This was the second time she ever saw him smile. “Yes, but I’m different, Adeline. I’m not going to hurt you and I’m not going to let anyone or anything harm you either. You are my best friend. You know me. Nothing is ever going to change that. Nothing.”
After that night, Adeline began to relax and returned to her usual cheerful self. Now her mind was at rest. Even though Joey still chose not to tell her specific details about what had happened to him when he was alive, she finally knew where he was. She no longer lay in bed at night, sleeplessly wondering where he’d gone.
Adeline considered herself to be extremely lucky with the relationship she now have with Joey. After all, a lot of people get haunted by cruel ghosts—but Joey would never do such a thing to her. He loved her and cared for her.
Nowadays, they see each other quite frequently. He remains his quiet and secretive self, not revealing anything about where he had just come from or where he was headed next.
“I’ll be gone away for some time.”
“Why?” She’d cry whenever he said that.
“I have to go somewhere,” he would simply reply, as he watched her shedding tears.
“But will you come back?”
“I can’t say for sure.”
“But you’re a ghost, aren’t you? Of course you know.”
In response, he would only shake his head and smile weakly.
After a while, Adeline stopped asking him to explain himself. She began to accept that he would come and go as he pleased.
She had no idea what was happening or why. All she wanted to do was to enjoy each and every moment she had with Joey.
Every time they met, she didn’t know if it would be her last moments with him.
Adeline never did believe in ghosts—but now she’s happy that she does.
Especially since she met Joey.