BY: JOHN S DANIELS
Jason and Philip have just celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary. They have a four-year old daughter and the perfect marriage. Then Philip is tragically killed in an automobile accident. As Jason struggles to deal with the terrible agony of Philip’s death, he discovers that the data from one of his extraordinary research projects has been stolen by an unscrupulous CEO of a small struggling biopharmaceutical company. Now Jason is being threatened with having his career destroyed and being framed for murder if he doesn’t agree to partner with the biopharmaceutical company for clinical trials stemming from his research. Jason knows he can’t give into extortion, but refusing could cost him everything he holds dear…
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Second Chances by John S. Daniels, Jason Green is a medical doctor and researcher at Sinai Medical Center in New York. His husband Philip Olson is killed in an auto accident and Jason is devastated. After Philip’s death, Jason throws all his energy into his work and his four-year-old daughter Julie. At work, he discovers a possible cure for certain types of cancer, but again he is devastated to learn that his research data has been leaked to an unscrupulous CEO of a bio-tech company. Now Jason has to decide what to do about the CEO who is trying to bribe Jason to partner with them, as well as discover who leaked the data. In addition, an old acquaintance reenters his life wanting to start a relationship, now that Philip is dead. But is Jason ready to start over with someone new?
The story is intense, fast paced, and intriguing, the science easy even for a lay person to understand. A really great read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Second Chances by John S. Daniels is the story of Jason Green, a gay doctor and medical researcher in New York. Jason and his partner Philip married a month after same-sex marriage became legal in New York in July 2011. But they had only been married five years when Philip is killed in an auto accident, leaving Jason and their four-year-old adopted daughter, Julie, devastated. As Jason struggles to put his life back together and move on, he receives another blow when he discovers that data from his research on cancer has been leaked to the head of a struggling bio-tech company. Jason is also dealing with a new man in his life, Kevin O’Malley, someone he met over a decade before who still carries a torch for him. Jason doesn’t think he is ready to start dating again, but Kevin is determined that Jason will no longer be the one who got away.
With marvelous, complicated, and well-developed characters; a solid well-thought-out plot; plenty of suspense and fast-paced action, Second Chances is one that you won’t want to put down.
Jason Green sat in the oversized leather chair, dazed, his cheek pressed against the cheek of his four-year-old daughter who was fast asleep in his arms. The Olsen mansion in Wilton, Connecticut, was filled with family and friends in subdued conversation, although Jason heard none of it. The emptiness he felt was unbearable. Jason remembered that same empty feeling when he had lost his mother sixteen years previous, but the depth of this void dwarfed those feelings. Guilt invaded his emptiness: Why would the loss of Philip be more traumatic than the loss of his mother? He had loved his mother so much. She had been the perfect parent. When he was thirteen, he told her that he was gay. She held him and told him that he was not only the perfect son but also an amazing human being. Jason had always been told that even looked like his mother. “As strikingly handsome as your mother was beautiful,” his family and friends would say. But that profound emptiness he had experienced when his mother died seemed miniscule compared to how he now felt. Perhaps it was age, or maybe that’s the way it was supposed to be.
Jason and Philip married two months after same sex marriage had become legal in New York in July of 2011. Jason had made it his mission to develop the perfect relationship with Philip after a tumultuous courtship. It took little effort. They were perfect companions. They were perfect lovers. Tears trickled down Jason’s face as he recalled his toast to Philip on their fifth wedding anniversary only a few months previously at Trattoria Del’Arte, their favorite restaurant. ‘I cannot imagine a more perfect marriage than ours. I cannot imagine a deeper love one human being can have for another than the love I have for you. I cannot imagine a greater feeling of contentment than I’ve had these past five years. Here’s to fifty more years of love and contentment.’
Philip’s exquisite smile and that rare hint of tears in his eyes after Jason said those words remained a vivid memory. Philip had never been one to easily express his emotions, but Jason knew his feelings were mutual. Jason sat almost catatonic as his tears channeled onto Julia’s cheek.
Not that his marriage had been one of traditional perfection, Jason pondered as he held Julia more firmly, feeling her heartbeat against his chest. There had been the occasional serious disagreements about Julia’s nurturing and education, particularly regarding religion. And Philip had tried to confess, on more than one occasion, sexual encounters that he had while serving as a visiting professor at other medical schools. Jason would quickly stop his confession each time, protesting that whatever he did was unimportant and that Jason was not interested. Despite those imperfections—or what others would regard as imperfections—Jason had meant and felt every word of that anniversary toast. Jason would frequently remind himself that the concept of perfection was nebulous—a lover of a Brahms piano concerto might consider a Schoenberg piano concerto severely flawed, although both are perfect in their own realm. In his own, realm Jason had regarded his marriage as perfect and Philip as complete perfection.
Philip’s mangled body had been flown back from San Francisco only the prior day. Although Jason had power of attorney over all of Philip’s affairs, he was extremely close with Philip’s parents, brother, and sister and gratefully allowed Philip’s father to make all of the funeral arrangements and burial in the Olsen family plots in Wilton. Philip would have wanted that, Jason thought, although Jason and Philip had never talked about where they would be buried. Their life together was just beginning, and mortality had never been a consideration. They had both bought life insurance policies when they adopted Julia, but buying those policies had been an afterthought, and the idea that a claim would ever be made seemed ludicrous.
Jason had begged Philip to cancel his trip to San Francisco on Sunday, only three long days ago. But Jason knew that Philip needed to go. After all, he had established himself as an internationally prominent orthopedic surgeon, and because of his innovative surgical techniques in spinal cord surgery, he was frequently asked to be a visiting professor at outstanding academic medical centers all over the world. Jason made him promise to accept only four visiting professorships every year. He couldn’t bear being separated from Philip. And Jason knew that Philip hated being away from him and Julia. There would be at least five FaceTime phone calls daily from Philip when he traveled. Jason recalled the sweet kiss Philip had given him as he left their home at five a.m. for his trip to San Francisco. “Give Julia a hug and kiss for me. I’ll call you when I get there.” Then the sweet and tender kiss, and “I love you.” The smell of Philip’s aftershave was still fresh in Jason’s memory.
A police officer had knocked at Jason’s seventeenth-floor condominium at four p.m. that Sunday. Philip had been picked up at the San Francisco airport by an orthopedic surgery resident, and, on their way to the medical center, their car was stopped at the back of a traffic jam on I-280. An eighteen-wheeler plowed into the back of their car, killing Philip and the orthopedic resident instantly. Eyewitnesses stated that the truck had been traveling at least sixty miles per hour and had not even attempted to slow down when the truck struck Philip’s car. The truck driver was seriously injured and was found to have an undetectably low blood sugar in the emergency room. He was an insulin dependent diabetic. Jason vomited as the officer finished relating the details. He asked the officer to notify Philip’s father. Jason could not fathom giving John Olsen this news.
Jason gave little thought to those awful details. The last three days had been a blur. He could only think of the emptiness he felt and worried whether he would have the strength to go on for the sake of his daughter. Julia, whom they had named after Jason’s dead mother, sweet Julia. Jason’s tears began to flow uncontrollably from his cheeks onto Julia’s cheeks, causing her to stir.
Jason suppressed sobs as he thought of Julia. Jason and Philip had adopted Julia a year after they married. She had been born to a seventeen-year-old Florida girl, and with the help of Philip’s father who had powerful political connections, Jason and Philip adopted the infant. Both had immediately bonded with her, and she quickly became the pivot of their personal life. She was a beautiful and happy baby with light blonde hair just like Philip’s, and with blue eyes and a beautiful face, just like Philip’s. Jason thought about how he had often teased Philip that he must have had had an affair with the natural mother because of their similar physical features. Both fathers had been surprised at the profound love they had developed for her. Jason adored watching Philip play with Julia and was stunned as well as fascinated by the deep bond between the two. Philip was gone only seventy-two hours, and already Jason fretted about how Julia would handle this loss. Tears continued to flow as Julia, still asleep, wiped Jason’s tears from her cheek.
Sophia gently wrested Julia from Jason’s arms, at first with unconscious resistance from Jason. Jason looked up at Sophia and smiled sadly, tears still flowing from his eyes. “Jason, sweetheart, I’ll put her to bed. She’s had a long day.” Jason handed his daughter to Sophia and unsuccessfully tried to smile. Sophia Gallardo had been Julia’s nanny for the past four years and had become an integral part of Green-Olsen family.
Jason had always recognized a subtle sadness in Sophia’s eyes, although her pain was now unambiguous. Sophia had confided her personal history to Jason, bit by bit, over the past four years. As an infant she and her parents had escaped Castro’s Cuba shortly after Castro seized power, immigrating to France where Sophia’s father had relatives. Both of Sophia’s parents were physicians, but her father was a brazen womanizer. Finally, by the mid-1960s, Sophia’s mother had had enough of her father’s philandering, and Sophia and her mother moved to New York City. Sophia married immediately after college and gave birth to a daughter whom she had raised alone after her husband abandoned them. Sophia was so quietly proud of her daughter who had just completed an oncology fellowship at Columbia University after graduating from medical school with honors.
Sophia had worked for twenty-five years as an executive secretary in Sinai Medical Center’s Orthopedic Department. Philip had first met her as a resident in that department, and, after Philip had become a full professor, he requested that Sophia become his personal secretary. Over several years, Philip had become very close to her, and Sophia had come to love Philip as a son. When Philip approached Sophia soon after they had adopted Julia and made her a very attractive offer as a full-time nanny, she immediately agreed. Employing a nanny was not a luxury but a necessity, since both Jason and Philip had demanding jobs and worked long hours.
Sophia wrapped her arms around Julia as she turned to carry her upstairs to her bedroom, tears still streaming down Jason’s cheeks. Jason was thinking how fortunate for him at this time to have Sophia, although her employment had turned out to be an expensive necessity. Jason looked over at Philip’s parents. As a wedding gift, Philip’s parents had given Philip and Jason their spectacular seventeenth-floor condominium that they had owned for over three decades and that overlooked Central Park. It had two bedrooms and was very spacious, but there was no accommodation for a nanny. A small one-bedroom unit on the second floor of their building had been for sale, and Philip and Jason bought it for Sophia to use. It cost over a million dollars. In addition, they paid her one hundred thousand dollars yearly for taking care of Julia Monday through Friday and on occasional Saturdays. But as expensive as that was, Jason thought, Sophia had actually been a bargain. She was in the seventeenth floor unit by five-thirty a.m. every day, made breakfast for all three, kept their home spotless, cooked their supper daily, and took care of Julia until both Jason and Philip arrived home in the evening.
Jason watched Sophia as she slowly climbed the staircase with Julia. Sophia and Julia had become very attached to one another, and there had even been a phase during which Julia would throw tantrums when Sophia left for the evening. She taught Julia to read and speak both English and Spanish, and by four years of age, Julia was fluent in both languages. Sophia took her to nursery school daily and made certain that the very expensive school was performing as advertised, often staying to observe, and complaining to the headmaster if the school did not meet her expectations.
Those memories brought a sad smile to Jason’s face. Sophia also took Julia to the zoo, the art museums, the natural history museum, and spent time with other the other children and their nannies in the neighborhood. Jason knew that Sophia had been an indispensable blessing for Philip and him.
It was seven p.m., only a few hours after the heart-wrenching funeral. Jason had prepared a eulogy to be given at the graveside, but he had been unable to deliver it. In fact, he had been unable to say more than a few words to anyone since the news had been given to him. At the graveside, his father had taken Jason’s hand-written eulogy from him and read it. Jason did not hear his words. He only held Julia tightly and stared at the casket. Jason saw Philip’s father and Paul Olsen, Philip’s younger brother, speaking at the graveside, but too their words passed unheard.
Jason took a deep breath and wiped the tears from his cheeks with his shirtsleeve. He looked around the house and saw hundreds of familiar faces. He thought it was time to climb out of this deep, dark hole and be strong for his daughter and Philip’s family. Seth and Sheri Goldberg approached him as he slowly got up from the leather chair that he and Philip had sat in together so many times over the past ten years.
Seth was Jason’s closest friend and his first resident when he arrived at Sinai as an intern eleven years ago. He was now a Professor of Cardiology at the Sinai Medical Center and had become a very prominent researcher and clinician. Jason had been instrumental in fixing Seth up with Sheri, and Philip and Jason had been godparents to their two children.
Seth took Jason in his arms and hugged him tightly, not letting go for some time. Jason saw the pain in Seth’s puffy eyes. “Jason, there is nothing I can say, except that Sheri and I are here for you and that we love you. You have to be strong and get through this. Julia needs you, we all need you.” Sheri was crying as Seth continued after a pause. “We’re going to head back to the city. When will you be coming back?”
“Probably tomorrow.” Jason’s answer was flat. “I want Julia to get back to her routine and make things as normal as possible for her. And I have to make sure everything is going smoothly at the lab.” Seth put his hand on Jason’s face, and both smiled sadly at one another. Seth and Sherri left as Paul Olsen, Philip’s younger brother, approached Jason.
Jason had become very close with Paul and his wife Amy over the years, but it was painful for Jason as he watched him approach. He reminded him so much of Philip. Like Philip, he was tall with blond hair and a beautiful face. Paul had graduated Yale law school and had entered his father’s law practice, and like Philip, Paul was brilliant and hardworking, perhaps a bit more outgoing than his older brother. Jason and Paul hugged each other and stood, looking at each other, both knowing the deep sadness each was suffering. Jason broke the silence. “How are you holding up?”
“It’s a nightmare.” Paul grimaced to hold back tears and paused. “I worshipped him.” Another pause. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through. And I can’t believe how strong Mom and Dad are, at least on the surface.”
“We should go be with them.” Jason took Paul’s arm, and they walked toward the living room, where John and Evelyn Olsen and Jonathan Green, Jason’s father, were standing together in quiet conversation. Each time Jason looked at Philip’s parents was a glaring reminder to him of the importance of genetics. Both parents were tall, blond, and physically beautiful people, and it was obvious how Philip, Paul, and their sister, Anna, each acquired their stunningly good looks.
“Where is Julia?” John Olsen asked Jason with a sad smile.
“Sophia is putting her to bed,” Jason answered as he hugged Evelyn Olsen, moisture returning to his eyes.
“Jason, I know you’re wanting to go back to the city tomorrow, and that’s fine. But we have a lot to talk about. Is it okay if we come in this weekend and spend some time together?” John asked with genuine anxiety.
“Of course. I don’t want our relationship to change. I’m your son, and Julia is your granddaughter,” Jason spoke in his deep southern accent, which remained undiminished despite living in New York City for eleven years. Once again tears trickled down Jason’s cheeks. He had always cried easily. Jonathan Green took his son’s arm and held him close. Over the next hour, the scores of family and friends filed past, giving parting condolences to Jason and the Olsen family, including Anna, Philip’s younger sister, who had joined them. Anna had been particularly close with Philip and was having difficulty coping, frequently disappearing for ten minutes to regain composure.
After everyone parted, John and Evelyn, Paul and Amy, Anna, Jason, and Jonathan sat in the lavish living room around the fireplace at a loss for words. After several minutes of silence, Jason spoke in a quiet voice. “I’m sorry I couldn’t speak this afternoon. I don’t have words to convey how close Philip and I have been. We were perfect.” He paused. “At this moment, I don’t see how I can go on. I know I have to, for Julia, if for no one else. I guess, Dad, you went on after Mom died because of Susie and me.” Jason looked at John and Evelyn, sitting next to each other on the couch. “And I cannot, even in my wildest imagination, begin to know how it feels to lose a child. I’ll do anything to make it easier for you both.”
Without hesitation and with a deliberate tone, John said, “Jason, we will go on, because we have no choice. Evelyn and I were both so close to Phil, as we are to Paul and Anna. But Phil shared everything about his life with us. And I can tell you that his life was fulfilled because of you. Even in my profound sadness, I feel a sense of happiness and consolation that I saw him as a fulfilled and happy person. So I’ll be forever grateful to you.” The only sounds were the crackling of the burning wood, the clanking of dishes that the caterers were cleaning in the kitchen, and Jason’s muffled sobs.
On Thursday morning, Jason, Julia, and Sophia had breakfast with the Olsen family, and, after long embraces, Jason strapped Julia into the car seat, and the three drove back to the city in Jason’s Murano. Sophia looked back at Julia and talked frequently to her in English and Spanish. Julia had not yet asked for Philip. Jason wondered whether she knew he was not coming home. Perhaps Julia and Sophia had talked about it. Jason took Sophia’s hand and held it for the sixty-mile ride back to their home across from Central Park. They arrived at the condominium at ten-thirty a.m. and were greeted by the concierge with a sad smile.
The three-thousand-square-foot condominium was on the seventeenth floor and had a spectacular view of Central Park. Most of the furniture was the original furniture that Philip’s parents had purchased almost thirty years ago. The furnishings were expensive and elegant, and the walls were decorated with very expensive artwork that had been part of the Olsen family for several generations. Several of the oil paintings were museum quality by early twentieth-century American artists. Philip and Jason had tried on numerous occasions to return the paintings to Philip’s parents after they married, but their offers had always been refused. The only additions Jason had made were an expensive stereo system with Macintosh speakers and a beautiful Roland grand digital piano, which fit perfectly in a corner of the living room.
Julia ran to her room and returned to the living room with her iPad to which she had become addicted. Jason and Philip had limited the time she could use it, but today Jason would let her use it as she wished. Jason went to Sophia and hugged her tightly. “Sophia, I hope you will continue to stay with us. I know how close you and Philip were. But Julia and I need you more than ever.”
“Sweetheart, I’m here with you till you kick me out. I’ll miss Phil terribly, but I love you and Julia equally. I was worried you would not want me to stay.” She touched Jason tenderly on the cheek and then started cleaning the condominium. Jason spent the rest of the day playing with Julia, reading to her, playing the piano with her, and playing games on her iPad with her. At one point, she asked when her daddy would be coming home. Jason answered that he had gone on a very long trip and would not be home for a long time. She looked at Jason for an unusually long moment when he said that, as if she knew that he was lying or that something was amiss. She then asked, “Daddy, are you going on a long trip?” Jason answered that he was never going to leave her.
Jonathan Green, Jason’s sixty-four-year-old father, joined them for a pot roast dinner that Sophia had prepared. Jonathan had sold his department store in Mississippi and moved into a condominium only a few blocks from Jason and Philip soon after they had married. He had grown close to the Olsen family and loved Philip as a son. Jason sensed the great pain his father was quietly suffering, much like he remembered when his mother died. He had said little to Jason since the news. What was there to say?
Julia had become very attached to Jonathan, whom she called Papa, and Jonathan took great delight in reading with her, frequently telling Jason and Philip how much it reminded him of his early years with Jason. Jason watched as Jonathan sat with Julia on the couch after supper reading The Paper Bag Princess.
Jason and Sophia quietly cleaned dishes. When they finished, Sophia put her hands on Jason’s face, smiled sadly at him, and said, “Sweetheart, life goes on. I’ll be here in the morning. I love you.” They hugged, and Sophia left him to return to her second floor home. Jason stood in the kitchen listening to Julia read to his father. He was gentle and patient, just as he remembered him as a child. Jonathan took Julia to her bedroom for a final bedtime story, and Jason went to his digital piano, plugged in the earphones to mute the external speakers, and began playing Moonlight Sonata. Jason had always turned to his music when stressed or sad, although it had been years since he needed his music for that purpose. His life with Philip had been as perfect as life could be.
Jonathan put his hands on Jason’s shoulder, startling him. “She’s asleep. She is precious and smart. Her reading is almost as good as yours when you were that age,” he said. Jason got up, hugged his father, and began to quietly cry once again. Jonathan wiped the tears off of Jason’s cheeks with his hands. “Jason, it gets easier with time. That’s the only consolation I can give you. It does get easier. You have Julia and a loving family, and you’re an amazing and greatly admired scientist. You have a full life ahead of you. It will get easier.”
Jonathan cupped his hands on Jason’s face, just like he did growing up, kissed him on the forehead, smiled sadly, then turned around and left Jason alone.
Jason checked on Julia, who was sleeping soundly. He undressed and crawled into the empty bed. He could still smell the lavender from the soap that Philip used and that had rubbed off onto the sheets and pillowcase. Sleeping with Philip had been one of the most surprising aspects of their relationship. He had never talked about that with Philip or confided in his father or Seth—it had been, and remained, such an inexplicable wonder to him. From the very first time they had slept together, Philip would turn his back to Jason. Jason would place his pillow perpendicular to Philip’s pillow, making him slightly higher than Philip in the bed. He would then put his left leg in between Philip’s two legs, wrap his arm over Philip’s chest and hold his left forearm. The two men would then fall immediately into a deep sleep. Most days, the two would awaken after seven hours of sleep in exactly the same position. Occasionally, Jason would awaken during the night and find himself turned around. He would immediately reposition himself and quickly return to contented sleep. When Philip was away on a visiting professorship, Jason slept poorly. Philip’s return always remedied his insomnia. Jason could not explain, but was fascinated by the contentment that he felt sleeping in the same bed with Philip. He knew that he would miss that part of their relationship even more than looking at his beautiful face, listening to his operating room stories, watching him play with Julia, or having sex with him. Tears returned as Jason fell into a restless sleep.
© 2018 John S. Daniels