HE LOVED HER, MORE THAN ANY MAN COULD LOVE A WOMAN.

As he stared at his words on the page, tears pooled in the corner of Virginio’s eyes. Reflecting on the profound reality that he might be facing death shook him to his core. There is no greater teacher to remind me how precious the wonder of my life is, he thought, There is no greater test of the meaning of family. Maria was at the forefront of his mind: how much he loved her, through all the layers. Years of her unwillingness to let go and be vulnerable, chastising him, and withholding affection, he still needed her—Virignio wanted her. Making his way back up the stairs, he yearned to hold his wife, soothe her fears, and escape his own. 

     Virginio found Maria leaned up against her pillow gazing out the window with a vacant stare—lost in the full moon. He listened as she pleaded for guidance. 

     “You give, and then you take away? Why do I pray to you if you don’t hear me? Help me understand and find the strength to endure.” 

     The moon beamed through scattered clouds in sharp blades of light, illuminating the emptiness in Maria’s eyes. Darkness spread through her body as her thoughts smoldered with despair. Feeling the hole in her chest expand, she tried to breathe through the pain. Heavy-hearted, Virginio watched. Maria’s strength had always been something he admired, and the very reason he had fallen in love with her. With the weight of the years and Virginio’s imminent departure, the spark inside Maria was dimming, and it showed. Virginio approached the bed. 

     “My love, are you OK?”

Maria revealed her tear-stained face. Her eyes were wide with worry. “Virginio, where have you been?”

     “I was writing the girls a letter. They need to know what is happening.” Drained from the million thoughts circling his brain, Virginio removed his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes. “This war, Maria. Damn this war!”

     Maria clenched her eyes shut, and a cascade of tears fell down her cheeks. The color drained from her face as her hands dropped into her lap, lifelessly. “Our family is falling apart. What am I to do? How can we carry on without you?” Turning to Virginio, she searched his eyes for reassurance. 

     Seeing Maria begging for an answer broke Virginio’s heart. My God, I can’t save her. I can’t save my children. He pulled Maria to his chest and kissed her head. “I love you more than any man can love a woman.” 

     Drawing her face upward, Maria’s eyes filled with fear.

     “Maria, Maria.” Looking at her deeply, Virginio bared his soul. “Do you see me?” 

Lost in his loving eyes, Maria nodded.

     “I see you,” he said, smiling. “Our love? This big love? It will guide me home, back to you, back to our children and us.”

     “If you don’t come back, I’ll die without you.” Maria swallowed the sadness that welled in her throat as she ran her fingers over his lips. The veneer of hardness, the armor that she was so accustomed to carrying around with her was quickly slipping off her body.

     “Kiss me, Virginio. Tell me this won’t be our last night! Take me away from this fear. Far away.”

     Moving his hand through her hair, he removed her pins one by one. Her long black hair tumbled over her pale shoulders. Brushing Maria’s locks from her face, Virginio leaned in and melted away the sorrow in her heart with his kisses. Maria inched closer. Parting her lips, she whispered, “Virginio, come back to me. Promise you’ll come back to me.” 

     Hearing the tremor in her voice, Virginio knew he couldn’t erase her pain. He untied the ribbon from Maria’s white nightgown, revealing her delicate silhouette. “You’re beautiful,” he breathed.

    Outlined by the moon’s adoring light, Virginio caressed every detail of Maria’s body. Pulling her into him, he took in her essence. For several long moments that seemed to last for an eternity, they slipped into a universe of their own. Their old, familiar passion swept over them. Maria’s inhibitions fell away as they both surrendered to the rhythm and intensity of their love. For a moment, the cave in her heart filled with light, and they swirled among the stars. Maria shuddered in the safety of her husband’s arms. 

     Hearing his thoughts, she whispered, “I love you, too.” She clutched him as tightly as she could, wishing she could hold him in her embrace forever. “Come back to me soon.” 

     “Look there.” Virginia pointed out the window. “Wherever we are, that is our moon. When you look at it, I will see your face, and you will see mine. Your light and our love will guide me home. We must believe that.”

     Maria buried her head into his chest. Soothed by Virginio’s words, warmth, and the beating of his heart, she began to regain hope. Stroking Maria’s hair, Virginio lulled his beloved into a peaceful sleep. 

     He himself lay awake until the wee hours reflecting on his life, and all that was at stake. He prayed in silence. God, only you know my future and that of my sons. Our destiny lies in your hands. Show us the way out of this hell and back to our family. We need each other. We are not whole without one another.

     The morning finally broke. The stark light filled the room with shadows, drawing attention to the harsh reality of what was to come—the uncertainty of Virginio’s fate.

     “Maria?” Virginio nudged her back, “Are you awake?”

     “Yes, did you sleep?”

     “No, but I’m glad you were able to rest. Maria, we don’t have much time. I want to keep this morning as normal as possible to not frighten the children.”

     “I was thinking the same.”

     Sinking deep in thought, Virginio reflected on whether he’d been a good father, and whether he could have done things differently. 

     “Kids!” hollered Virginio. “Everybody on Mama and Papa’s bed!”

      “What happened to a normal morning?” Maria sarcastically asked.

       “I changed my mind,” he said, causing a smile to play over his wife’s lips, despite the heaviness in her heart.

     Laughter and loud conversations were buzzing down the hall. Virginio folded his fingers into Maria’s, squeezing tight. “I’m a lucky man.”

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