A Valentine Romance
The Karnakos home...Mountain Lakes, New Jersey...9:27pm, February 13, 2011...
Delia lay on her side; wondering if this was the last Valentine’s Day together. Jason had been ill for some time, and the doctors gave little hope that he would last past the summer. A marriage made in heaven, their friends had proclaimed. She rolled over on her back and cursed God, her arm falling across his still form.
“Why bring him into my life if you were just going to take him away? It isn’t fair. What did he ever do to deserve this? What did I do? It’s just not fucking fair.” She thought. She was too angry for tears; her voice was sore from crying over the past several days and any more weeping had to be futile and unheard, didn’t it?
“Dee…what’s wrong?” Jason lifted his head and propped it up on his arm.
“What do you think?”
She hadn’t meant to snap at him, but her anger was understandable if misdirected. Married for three years, they had hopes upon which she had built long-awaited fulfillment, but with his…” Despite her vow, she fell into his arms, sobbing.
“Don’t go…please….please.” She wept as her arms encircled him.
He cried as well; his tears soft and tender and soothing as he whispered,
“Keep me here.” He touched her chest, tapping softly.
“I haven’t given up. Not yet. Not now.” He smiled at her as they embraced. He kissed her cheeks and eyes and neck. He savored her scent, nuzzling her neck with his nose.
“Nothing will ever keep us apart…nothing.” He lay on her body like a warm blanket on a cold day; soft and welcomed and even cherished. They danced a lover’s waltz; slow and sure and romantic and wonderful. The day began with as wonderful a time as anyone would ever imagine; more than what they could have ever hoped. Two as one; a celebration on Valentine’s Day….love in its purest form as each gave to the other.
Jason died that night; asleep in a peaceful embrace in Delia’s arms as he breathed his last breath with the words,
Late December...St. Clare's Hospital, Dover, New Jersey...
“Dr. Karnakos?” The young woman stood at the doorway to Delia’s office.
“Yes? Ms. Speranza?” Delia smiled and stood; walking from behind the desk to greet the woman as she entered the office.
“Yes, Gi Speranza.” She nodded and sat down as Delia sat in a chair opposite her.
“That’s an interesting name, Gi…is it short for something?”
“Oh yes, Giovanna, after my grandmother, God rest her soul.” The word ‘God’ grated on Delia like fingernails on a blackboard. She feigned a cough, hoping the woman wouldn’t notice her expression.
“I’m looking forward to working with you. It is really a privilege to be asked to participate in the tribute. Dr. Karnakos. Your husband was much loved in the community for his work with children and I am sure this is going to be a wonderful experience. I hope I can do his memory justice.”
She smiled and lowered her head modestly. Delia cringed again, this time at the word ‘children.’ She felt abandoned by everyone and everything. The idea for the new Pediatric Oncology Ward had been an idea she had for some time, but the addition of dedicating it to Jason had been the administration’s suggestion.
“Jason just loved your music; very few artists evoked such peace for him as your piano, Ms. Speranza. Especially near the end. Jazz seemed to take him to another place; the pain never went away, but it seemed to step aside in a way when he listened.
“It’s been a while since I played publicly, Dr. Karnakos. I’m a bit rusty.”
“Nonsense; you’ll be fine. Jazz is mostly improv anyway, isn’t it?”
“Yes and no; there’s a precision about jazz that winds its way around the spontaneous; keeps it grounded while letting it breathe and sing, if I may?” Gi smiled and reached over and touched Delia’s hand, causing her to pull away.
“Oh, gosh…I’m so sorry…I forget sometimes when I’m with someone I don’t know; I’m very physical in my communication with folks I know; you must bring out something in me. We’ve never met, but you feel so familiar.” She lowered her head slightly and shrugged a bit in apology.
“That’s okay…it’s just…” She looked away, and tears came to her eyes. She hadn’t shed a single tear in nearly twelve months, and it felt painfully sad and oddly good at the same time.
“Oh…I’m so, sorry. I’ve been too…” The girl forgot once again, touching Delia’s knee. She shied away again, but not with a start, but slowly; deliberately as she looked absent mindedly around the office.
“Jason….Jason was a very ‘touchy-feely’ person, even to the end. He actually spent an hour consoling one of the hospice workers the week before he died.” She sighed and looked down at her knee. The feeling of the woman’s touch brought back such vivid memories that she became lost for a moment.
“Dr. Karnakos?” Gi spoke softly. “Is there something else you’d like to tell me about your husband? Something I should know?”
“Nothing comes to mind other than that he had such a big heart…for children…for friends…for family…he was such a…giving person.” She shook her head and laughed softly with a wry grin.
“What? Did I miss something?” Gi asked again. Delia leaned closer and touched the woman’s knee, forgetting herself for a moment.
“Jason’s body had failed him…inoperable brain tumor...but his heart was still in such great shape, that he donated it…that day…Valentine’s Day of all days…” She bit her lip as the love she had tried to forget; the love that had been buried with the pain and the sadness came back to her like a rain shower on a warm day. Her tears cooled the heat of her sadness as the memories flooded her.
“I’m…I’m so sorry….I’m not usually like this.” Delia said as she reached for a tissue.
“I’m sorry…too, Dr. Karnakos… I can’t imagine such loss…such love…it must have been wonderful." The woman touched her knee again. This time Delia didn’t retreat but sat and began to cry again. A moment later a knock came at the door.
“Delia?” A voice came from outside the office. Gi looked over and could see that Delia was lost in memories; the crying seemed to her to be a beautiful thing. She stood and walked to the door and opened it.
“Oh…hi, Ms. Speranza, is Delia…?” Louise looked over at Delia’s weeping form.
“Oh, God…” She said with a start. She motioned for Gi to step outside.
“I am so sorry…I seem to have started something.” Gi put her head down but Louise replied,
“Oh, no….you don’t understand. She’s been like….she hasn’t been able to cry since Jason died. This is a good thing. I don’t know what you said to her, but God bless you, whatever it was worked. Thanks.”
A few weeks later...
“I’d like to try something. I have a favorite of mine… I don’t know why I thought of this, but it just came to me as something your husband would have liked? It’s an old piece; not much improv; more throwback than funky?” Gi sat at the piano the hospital had in the lobby; a lovely Steinway Baby Grand.
“I’m sure whatever you play will be just fine; you’re just so in tune…sorry for the pun…you’re just so in sync with Jason’s tastes. In some ways, it’s like you knew him…like you know him.”
Delia cringed inside at the words. In two weeks, the relationship, at least on her end, had taken an odd turn. She never would have thought in a million years that she’d be attracted to another woman, much less one who was younger than her. Maybe it was just the connection between the music and Jason and her, but the woman seemed to fit everything she ever had thought about in regard to…”
She shuddered as the word ‘replacement’ came to mind. Nothing…no one could ever take Jason’s place, right? But here she was, barely a year into widowhood and thinking about love. Can it happen that fast? It did with her and Jason. They knew that they knew that they knew, as he would tell all of their friends; made in heaven.
But this was different; wasn’t it? The girl…the woman had barely acknowledged her other than to plan the music. A brief meal out after a long day with the planning committee led to the same brief lingering apologetic touch from Gi…there wasn’t anything there, was there? Another meal out...just to get to know each other; there wasn't anything to that, was there?
"Go ahead and surprise me."
The lobby of the hospital, February 14, 2012
“Ladies and Gentlemen, It is my profound privilege to introduce you to a very talented musician and singer. She has agreed to grace our dedication today as she plays a musical tribute to my dear sweet Jason. Please give a round of applause to Ms. Giovanna Speranza!”
She walked swiftly to the piano and sat down. She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath before starting…
Hide your heart from sight,
Lock your dreams at night,
It could happen to you.
Don't count stars,
Or you might stumble.
Someone drops a sigh,
And down you'll tumble....
It was more than a surprise to Delia as Gi continued to play… a brief interlude between verses as her fingers danced lightly over the keyboard. Delia turned her back to the crowd and stepped away. She walked quickly over to the ladies room and closed the door. Putting her head against the inside door, she began to weep, remembering another singing that same song just a little more than a year ago. After a few minutes, she collected herself and washed her face with cold water.
“Are you alright?” Gi asked as Delia came back. “I was….everyone was worried about you.”
Louise had seen Delia’s exit and introduced Dr. Lana Carlucci, the director of the new program, to dedicate the wing. Following a closing prayer, everyone was invited to stay in the lobby for refreshments.
“I…you played that song.” She looked at Gi and stifled a gasp with her hand against her lower lip.
“Yes…I just felt led…I don’t know why, but it seemed to fit with everything you’ve told me…what I felt I knew about him. I’m sorry if it hurt you…please…please forgive me.” Delia gave no reply but began to sob. Gi looked away.
“I am so…so sorry, Delia….Dr. Karnakos? I…Please.” Delia continued to cry.
“I would never hurt you like this…you have to know….you…you mean too much to me.”
“What?” Delia looked at her and tilted her head as she wiped her face with her sleeve.
“I…I know…he was so special…he was….I am so sorry….” Gi began to cry; the emotion of her friend was so compelling as to pull her in. It was as if Delia’s grief and sadness were being replaced rapidly and surely, and it was shared in that moment with Gi as an embrace. She looked into Delia’s eyes and saw something she hadn’t noticed before. A welcome. An invitation of sorts.
And Delia looked into Gi’s eyes and saw something that was both amazing and wonderful. A twinkle. And an odd small copper blot on the iris of the woman’s right eye; a blemish to some, it was wonderfully strange and altogether welcome. Delia shuddered, remembering someone else while drinking in the view of someone new.
“I…” It was the last word spoken for several moments as Delia interrupted the woman with a sudden and surprising, “No!” followed by an ever more sudden and surprising kiss. A first kiss that felt the same as every other kiss she had ever known.
And Gi felt the familiar mixed with the new as well; a completely astounding and wonderful several moments followed by equally gleeful laughter and tears; sadness mixed with joy, goodbyes mixed with hellos as she kissed back.
“I don’t want you to feel as though…” Delia began to tear up and she turned away. Gi leaned on her back and whispered,
“I know…you don’t have to feel bad. And I can’t think of anyone who I’d rather follow. You’ll never stop loving him….which is as it should be.” She kissed Delia on the back of the ear.
“I’m just so glad to be a part of your life. “ She kissed Delia once again and smiled before pulling her into a warm embrace. Gi lay on the bed and grabbed Delia’s hand before saying quietly,
“Just promise me one thing, okay?” She took Delia’s hand and placed it on her chest before pulling it softly to her own chest, where she laid Delia’s palm. Delia’s eyes widened and she began to weep as she remembered those words even as Gi repeated them without knowing,
“Keep me here.” Gi looked into Delia’s eyes and saw, not grief, but a peaceful joy. She felt Delia’s hand softly touch her breast before lingering between the two as she traced the line of the long scar that marred her chest. She looked down at the scar, fading but still very red and intrusive and she began to weep until she saw the love and wonder on Delia’s face.
“Keep me here? Yours…forever.”
All I did was wonder how your arms could be,
And it happened, and it happened,
And it happened to me.
It Could Happen to You
Words and Music by
Jimmy Van Husen and
As played by
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