An image of anxiety stared back at Daniel from the bathroom mirror. The unforgiving fluorescent light accentuated the toll middle-age had taken on him. His trembling left hand repeatedly tried to smooth the graying bangs strewn across his furrowed brow, while his right hand nervously clenched and unclenched around a dozen bright red roses.
The thought occurred to him that he must look like a teenage boy with prom-night jitters, but he cared little for appearances just then. In a few moments, Daniel would speak to his wife, Carla, for the first time in five years. Much had changed since she’d last seen him. His hair was thinner and his middle was thicker. He wondered how she would regard him. Would she see the proud, square-jawed man he’d been the night of their parting, or the humble, flush-faced man he now saw.
A knock at the bathroom door startled him from his thoughts. “Mr. Raymond,” called the muffled voice of the receptionist, “Carla will see you now.”
Daniel’s stomach lurched. So long had he waited for this moment that now, it seemed almost unreal. In a flash, he relived all the lonely nights spent longing for her smile. He felt the frustration of his many failed attempts to reach her; the desperation of being unable to conquer the distance between them. “Thanks,” the voice of his teenaged alter-ego croaked before he regained his composure and cleared his throat, “I’ll be right there.”
As he reached the door behind which he knew Carla waited, hesitation gripped him again. Where would he start? There was so much to say, but would any of it matter now? He inspected the roses one last time. Will she even care that it’s Valentine’s Day? Perched on the threshold between who he had become and who he would be from that moment forward, Daniel silently begged God’s blessing as he turned the knob and entered the room.
The jumble of words and thoughts racing through Daniel’s mind disintegrated when he saw Carla sitting up in the hospice bed that had been her home for half a decade. Her face was still very pale and gaunt but her eyes were open; not just halfway as they had been since the surgery, but wide open and shining with life! He tried to speak her name but failed to do much more than soundlessly move his lips. When she smiled at him in recognition, the earth’s foundations seemed to tilt, pitching him headlong into her arms.
Five years of imprisoned tears flowed joyfully from Daniel’s eyes as he lay in wife’s weak yet powerful embrace. “Oh, sweetheart,” he cried, “it’s true! It’s really you! You’ve come back to me!”
Carla’s voice was no more than a hoarse whisper, “Thank you for waiting.”
Daniel held her delicate face in his hands, his fingers entwined in her long dark locks as he spoke. “Do you remember our last conversation, Carla?” Her frail, cold index finger pressed lightly against his lips as she shook her head, indicating he shouldn’t continue. “That argument…the night you collapsed.” He struggled with the words. “I just couldn’t stand thinking those would be our final words to each other.” She held his head child-like against her chest as he continued. “They told me I was selfish to hold on, and I should just let you go.” A fresh wave of tears interrupted him. “But I couldn’t, Carla. I wouldn’t! I prayed to Christ day and night to bring you back to me and He did Baby, He did! Oh, thank you Jesus! Thank you so much!” He kissed her tender throat and felt her pulse beating more rapidly than it had for a long time.
“You prayed for me?”
Sensing her confusion, Daniel explained that his brother had suggested reading the Bible to her while she remained unconscious. “After a few weeks, it really started to help me too.” Tears were now welling up in Carla’s eyes as she listened to her husband’s impassioned testimony. “Once the doctor’s had given up on us, I turned to the only person who wouldn’t.”
Daniel nodded, smiling, “And I will forever praise His blessed name!” he declared as he gazed through her frosty green eyes at the rekindled flame illuminating her precious soul.
Carla glanced at the roses he clutched. “Oh!” He shook his head abashedly, “Will you be my Valentine today?”
She rested her cheek against his and sighed, “Forever
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