Romance Fiction posted March 15, 2020


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Joseph and Julia

Letters From Heaven's Gateway 5

by Sally Law

Story of the Month Contest Winner 

~**~
The heart is much wiser than the head. When it speaks, listen closely. It's never too late to listen. Sally Law, Author, What the Blind Girl Saw.

Story number five in Letters From Heaven's Gateway is about childhood sweethearts, Joseph and Julia. Can their love be recovered?

********************

February 16, 2009

Dear Julia,

I'm not sure how love and regret can be rolled up and tied in a big knot, but that's how I'm feeling today. I love you so much, my darling, and I hate myself for not being able to get out of this #%$! bed and come and tell you so. Thus... this letter.

I don't blame you if you never want to see me again, or that you might even hate me. I'll own that. But, I know the heart inside of you is a loving one. I've seen it, and I have drawn from your deep well of love since I was a boy. You are not capable of hatred for long. I'm banking on this fact, really--praying it still resides in you.

I don't know where you are, or even sure if you'd be able to come and say goodbye.

Today, I write this because I have nothing to lose. I've foolishly let go of the most precious treasure I've ever had--my Julia.

Growing up, we were inseparable. You were my first everything: best friend, love, kiss, wife, and desire. I knew when you shared your colored pencils with me in art class, and scooted Oreos towards me during lunch, I had struck it rich in every way. Tell me, do you still lick the cream off the Oreo first, then eat the cookie? Just the memory of you sitting next to me in the school cafeteria makes me bawl like a baby.

You wouldn't let me kiss your lips for the longest time. A girl with high standards, so much better than I. You inspire me, even now.

No, I've never remarried, and I'm not sure how I ended up here. Remember how we used to say, "people don't go to Denny's, they just end up there." It must've been the affordable 'Grand Slam' breakfast that we always shared, and still had tons of leftovers.

I have become like the famous diner. This is not the life I wanted at all, yet--here I am!

Anyway, I didn't want to leave planet Earth without telling you how much I still love you. I always have, and always will.

My holistic doctor says he's hoping for a few more months of life. I'm not in too much pain, except for my heart.

My sweetest memories are of you, Julia.

Love,
Joe


********************

Joe placed the letter in an envelope, along with a kiss. No cellphone number or email address was given, as only her presence would do.

He addressed it to her parents' home, praying they would be kind enough to pass it along. Hopefully, they still lived in the home of his memory. It had been eleven years since he'd seen Julia or her parents.

Fears coupled with tormenting thoughts filled his mind. She's probably happily remarried by now. Don't spoil her new life! You're ancient history, old Pal.

A gentle voice spoke, breaking the black spell. "The mail carrier is coming, Mr. Leonard. May I give him your letter?" asked the nurse.

Joseph clutched it for a moment, then finally handed it over. "Not that it will matter; but it feels good to tell her, ya know?"

"Yes, I know," said the nurse. "I'll make sure your letter goes out today."

********************

Julia Leonard looked at the engagement ring, still displayed in the satin box. It was a showstopper, catching the light. She needed to give Brian her decision soon, but was torn between memories of her past and the present. Would she ever get over Joe? She couldn't remember not being in love with him. Seriously, who meets the love of their life in third grade?

Brian's surprise Valentine's Day proposal left her conflicted. When Joe had proposed, she could hardly wait for him to finish his speech before jumping into his arms.

This proposal was totally unexpected, and it wasn't sitting well. She snapped the box shut with a sigh, and tossed it in her handbag. "I'll not rush this," she said, reassuring herself.

The following day, she stopped by to check on her dad. He was alone now, but still living in their family's starter home. It had remained frozen in time, decorated in 1970s retro chic. Julia begged him to move and de-clutter, but so far, he had politely declined.

"Knock-knock, Papa," she said as she let herself in, scooping the mail from the box. "Medicare sends you an unbelievable amount of stuff!"

She gave him a quick peck on the cheek, then reached to serve herself a cup of his pungent coffee.

"Jules, there's a letter for you here" he said, pointing. " I recognize the penmanship."

Julia's breath caught in her throat.

"What's this? Joe's in a cancer institute? Oh no, please God...." Her eyes blurred with tears as she absorbed the letter. She pulled out her cellphone and typed the hospital's address into her contact information.

As usual, her father sensed what was on her mind. "Let me get my coat, Jules. I'll go with you."

********************

The car was quiet as they drove to the cancer institute in Austin, three hours away. Julia was glad her father was with her. He was rock solid, and a man with a deep faith in God. He also loved Joe like a son. When Julia and Joe divorced, it was a difficult time for them all.

"Papa, Joe didn't say a word about being a musician and touring together," stated Julia. "It was as though our story was blotted out. I don't know, Papa. Maybe this is nothing more than a goodbye letter for the sake of closure."

"I say this, not because I'm the wisest man who ever lived. Is it possible that Joe might want to renew his relationship with you?"

"I guess we will find out soon enough," commented Julia.

They continued on, driving well below the speed limit.

"This is the exit according to this world's oldest map you have here, Papa. Does the term GPS ring a bell?"

"That's too newfangled for me, my Texas rose. Now, let's park and hurry inside out of the cold."

"There's a valet at the front entrance," Julia said. "They'll park the car for us, then bring it back when we're ready to leave."

"No kidding? Well... how about that!"

Inside the facility, they were greeted with kind smiles. The inviting lobby was lined with breathtaking artwork and motivational quotes. A spray of freshly cut eucalyptus scented the area, and both father and daughter felt revived. It did not feel like a hospital of any sort. A sanctuary, if ever there was one.

"How may I help you?" asked the receptionist.

"We are here to visit a patient... Joseph Leonard." Julia fumbled for her letter, trying to find the room number.

"Mr. Leonard's just been moved to a private family suite on the second floor. Room 2812 is the first left from the main elevator. Are you by chance, Julia?"

******************

Julia used the restroom, taking care to look at herself. She hoped she was ready for whatever this was. She rested in the reassurance of Joe's penned love for her.

Arming herself with courage and tissues, she knocked lightly on the door. There was no answer. Papa, however, showed her how it was done. Surely the entire hall was stirred as the door shook.

"Come in," said the familiar voice.

Julia's tears returned as soon as she saw his face. He had obviously been expecting her, as her favorite yellow roses were all about the room.

"Joe," is all she could muster. Papa guided her towards him and excused himself.

"Are you going to make me beg for it, woman?" She reached carefully past his monitor and IV's, and held out her hands. He wasted no time kissing her fingers passionately. Julia's face was drenched with tears by the time she offered her lips.

"So, are you leaving me again?" she cried. Joe smoothed her hair neatly behind her ears as he spoke.

"Not today. I hope God grants me some more time. I have something important to say, and--to ask you."

"I have a few things to say, as well. Although, I felt stirrings just now. That was much more than a goodbye kiss."

"That's because it was more, my loving girl." His eyes spoke volumes as he kissed her again and again.

"Joe, as nice as this is, the thought of you loving me one minute, and possibly departing the next, is killing me inside."

"Then, let me make it as right as I can. Would you please reach into top dresser drawer and pull out the red box."

Julia felt faint. "Red box... in the top drawer... over there?"

"Yes, and do hurry."

Hurry, she did not. She saw the box along with a card. "The card, too?"

"Yes...."

By the time she turned back around, Joe was sitting up. She offered him a drink and then sat next to him in a chair.

"Closer, please. Right here next to me, love."

Julia sat on the bed as close as she could get without setting off his medical alerts.

The patina around Julia's heart was melting by the second, like paint before a blow torch.

"I can't leave this world without being your husband, Julia, even if it's just for a fleeting moment. Will you accept this ring and my whole heart for however long we have?"

All hesitation broke as tears flooded them both.

Julia laid him flat and looked deep into his brown eyes. "I would jump in your arms, Mr. Leonard, but I need you alive as long as possible. We have a life to live."

They made up for lost time until the nurse reappeared. "Now you've done it," teased Joe. "Stirred the sleeping dogs!"

"Ahem! And just what do we have here?" questioned the nurse.

"I'm getting married this afternoon! This is my bride-to-be, Julia. Now, if you'll unhook me, kind nurse, I hope to sit on the edge of the bed. A fresh shirt along with my grooming kit, please."

"I'll get Papa," said Julia.

To her complete surprise, Papa came through the door, dressed in a suit and carrying his Bible.

"You knew about this, didn't you?" She hugged him affectionately as she whispered in his ear, "I've never been so happy. Am I crazy?"

"No, you're crazy in love--the both of you," said Papa. "Allow me to do the honors as Justice of the Peace."

The vows were simple and sweet as Joe slipped the wedding band into place. His voice was as melodious and sweet as he spoke his handwritten vows to Julia.

You, Julia, are my precious pearl, a gift from God. He put you in my path early on, so that we would marry and stay together forever. Like a fool, I let you go, and reached for other things. I'll never do that again, and promise you this day, we will never part until God takes me home.

Julia gazed upon her groom, speaking from her heart.

Joe, I vow to stand beside you, now and always, no matter what, no matter how difficult it gets. I love you, Joseph Leonard. I don't want to live another moment without you.

The afternoon sun lit up the room as love overcame the worst of circumstances.

Joe's cancer went into remission, granting him two more years of life. The country musician boasted to anyone who would listen about the power of love. Not one doctor could deny the miraculous turnaround.

His former manager called as soon as he heard the good news, offering him an opening spot in a upcoming concert. "Nope," was Joe's answer.

The loving couple dedicated their time and talents to children suffering from cancer. Joe had met many of them at the Austin institute and all along the way.

Joe left this earth fulfilled, and still crazy in love with his wife, Julia.



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