Sam thought he must be still dreaming. As he lay in his big bed up in his attic room T Ma's, he imagined he heard the sweet notes of "Beautiful Dreamer." It wasn't from a fiddle or violin, but somehow was richer and deeper.
At almost sixty two years old, Sam's arthritis made his walking stiff in the mornings or on cold days, and he slowly made his way to the large, round, stained glass window, open to the morning air. Looking down, he saw a young man with a head of dark curls looking down as he played what looked to Sam to be a giant fiddle, but held between his legs as he sat on "Sam's" bench.
As the last, drawn-out note ended, the musician looked up, and his large, deep brown eyes met Sam's. When the young man smiled, Sam gasped at the long, narrow, nose, white, dimpled smile, and the smooth olive skin. His Chiara was looking back at him again!
The young man stood up, bowed to Sam, and politely beckoned for him to come join him. Recovering from his shock, Sam gave a crooked smile and nodded his head.
The tall, slim young man was standing by the bench, hand on the long neck of his musical instrument when Sam arrived. He bowed at Sam and extended his right hand.
"It is an honor to meet you, Sir. I am Luca De Luz, really Luca Salvatore, but I use my mother's name. You must be Sam Noonan."
Sam's hand still grasped the young man's as he took in the beautiful face so like his Chiara's.
"Yes, I am Sam Noonan. Forgive me for staring, but you are your mother!" Blushing a little, Sam realized he still had a hold on the young man's hand, and quickly released it.
"It's quite all right, Mr. Noonan," Luca smiled. "I have heard that all of my life, and it please me to still see my mother's face when I look in a mirror. Come, please sit with me. I have so much to tell."
Sam's heart caught at the word "still." He looked at Luca with a question in his furrowed face.
A sensitive young man, Luca understood Sam's feelings. He put his slim hand with long, tapered fingers over Sam's big rough ones.
"Yes, Mr. Noonan, and this I must call you for 'Sam' was hers and hers alone, Mama loved you like the flowers love the sun. When she returned from America ten years ago, even though I was only ten, I knew something had changed. She no longer let my father verbally abuse her, and, in fact, forbid him entry into our home. She would go on a long, fast horseback ride almost every morning, and every year, on exactly this date, would have me play 'Beautiful Dreamer' out in our garden. She sang along in such a heartbreaking voice, which I never understood, as well as why she had taught me this song upon her return."
As he listened, Sam realized with a start that this morning was the anniversary of the first time he had heard that sweet, clear voice singing along to his fiddle. For years, he had tried to forget the date, but lately had taken to sitting in the garden on "their" bench, silently remembering.
"Mr. Noonan, Mama made me promise to use my inheritance to retrace the American tour she had made ten years ago, and in particular, to be here in Dodge, in this garden, on this morning. She told me…everything…Mr. Noonan, about the unforgettable two weeks she spent here with you. The happiest two weeks of her life. And no, I felt no jealousy or resentment. She adored me, but this time with you was what was meant for only one man and one woman to share. I am forever in your debt for giving this to her."
Sam lifted one hand from his lap and softly touched the shiny wood surface of the large musical instrument Luca was holding.
"So this must be the cello she told me you were so good at, even as a boy. It sings as she did."
Both old man and young man sat in a companionable silence, side by side, each struggling with emotion, but each smiling with private memories. The birds sang, and large orange and black butterflies flitted among the sweet smelling lilac and rose blooms.
"Mr. Noonan, I have some things in my room here that my mother wanted you to have. Would you mind waiting here for me for a few minutes?"
Sam nodded, and Luca picked up his cello and headed for the gate. Sam watched him leave, seeing his Chiara even in his walk.
Five minutes or so later, the young man reappeared with a good-sized soft leather satchel. Sam startled awake from a sweet reverie, and smiled at him.
"Looks like a whole lot of things!" He couldn't imagine any material possession mattering to him after having received her love.
Luca opened the satchel and took out a small, flat, red leather case. He stroked it lovingly and handed it to Sam.
Sam opened it curiously. He sharply inhaled when he saw the diamond and ruby choker with matching earrings. He couldn't stop a tear from falling on them.
"I never saw my mother wear these. Mama was very lenient with me, and even spoiled me, but she never let me touch this case when I would curiously look through her jewelry at times. She knew how I loved the sparkles and colors against her beautiful skin. These must be something special for her, and for you."
"Yes, Luca, very special. Your mother wore a lovely dark red dress with these, and I had never seen a more beautiful woman then or ever after."
Sam sat holding the case like holding a fragile flower, visions of that night still as fresh as a newly opened bloom.
Luca cleared his throat and Sam looked up.
"These are for you, too. My Mama used to spend an hour every afternoon in our garden, writing. I learned quickly that she was not to be disturbed then. She would enter the garden in a melancholic mood, and emerge sometimes with tears on her cheeks, but always with a smile. Mr. Noonan, these are more precious than any jewels. These are pieces of her heart."
The beautiful young man put the satchel up on the bench beside Sam. "These are ten years of her daily letters to you that she never mailed, carefully sorted by year and date."
Sam picked out the first one, dated the evening of the day she had left Dodge, ten years ago, admiring her fine handwriting of his name on the envelope. He looked up to see Luca consulting a large, gold pocket watch.
"Luca, forgive my lack of manners. Can I treat you to lunch at Delmonico's?"
"I truly appreciate the offer, Mr. Noonan, but my train for San Francisco leaves in one hour. I am so pleased to have been able to fulfill my dear Mama's wishes, and to have the pleasure and honor of meeting you. May I write to you occasionally?"
"Oh, Luca, please do! I want to get to know you, and not just because you are so much like your Mama. I can never thank you enough for taking the time and effort to come here on this morning in particular, and for bringing me these precious things."
Sam stood and embraced the startled young man, so much like Chiara in appearance and heart, who strongly returned the embrace.
That evening at work, Kitty kept a thoughtful eye on Sam. He had definitely slowed down over the past few years, as all do with age and arthritis, but was still the best bartender she had ever known. But tonight there was a return of a long missing sparkle in his gentle, dark brown eyes. Not since Chiara De Luz had left him at the train station ten years ago. She smiled, figuring he would tell her if and when he wanted to the reason for the renewal of his spirit. Kitty was just grateful it was back.
Sam looked at his watch, figuring how many more hours until he could go back to his attic room and open another of Chiara's letters. He had opened her very first one before coming to work this night, and now had a tinted photograph of his Chiara on the nightstand by his bed, next to a flat, red leather jewelry case.
Smiling slightly, Sam thought about the 3,649 letters still to be read.
"Unable to perceive the shape of You
I find You all around me
Your presence fills my eyes with Your love
For You are everywhere."