Joe looks out over the table, proud of the setting, and of the fragrance filling the air. For a minute he wishes he had his uncle Cenzo’s talents in the kitchen, but he knows he has inherited enough culinary skill to make it work. Two plates placed across from each other, bowls of pasta and sauce, an expensive bottle of red and two candles. A perfect setting for this perfect night, a night Joe has done his level best to pretend he forgot, and for the perfect woman.
He remembers it like it was yesterday. He had only been working in Cenzo’s deli a month after being discharged from the army and in walks this new counter girl: Katie. She had sass and was way too full of herself. How such a tiny woman thought she could give a room full of men attitude was beyond any of them, but she did, and got away with. She was smart, an honors student in her college, and bold, and nothing like Joe’s mom. He had always told himself he wanted a marriage like his parents: a dutiful wife waiting for him when he got home from work with dinner on the table. As carefully hidden memories of mother crying in the pantry creep into his thoughts Joe finds himself thanking God for not giving him what he wanted and for Katie making him a better man.
The last twenty-five years have taken their toll. Gravity has been relentless with both of them, despite gym memberships and yoga classes and he makes a little, self-effacing joke how it is not fair that, even so, Katie is more beautiful now than she was that first day behind the counter. Time has chipped away at them, but all that means is that it has gotten rid of all the two never needed and left them what they required to be one. It left them with Cenzo’s deli to run when the old man got too sick to do it himself, it left them with seven years of trying to have a child and a bittersweet summer of sending that girl to college. It left them with photo albums full of a life together.
Joe grins as hears the porch door creak. He lights the candles. It’s been a good twenty-five, and there is more to come.
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