Manuela's brow furrowed as her fingers danced through the pages of a favourite recipe book, seeking out those just-perfect romantic menu items for the looming meal with two of her most persnickety clients. Fred and Lyanne, married forever, possessing more money than sense, would be arriving at her residence at 19:00 hours, expecting the epitome of romance.
After years of preparing, plating, presenting food and beverages for this couple, Manuela had discovered renewed determination to exceed their expectations. Fred and Lyanne held three ingredients sacrosanct: cheese, chocolate and strawberries — their Trinity of Romance — leading to this dilemma of how to innovate.
Ah, Manuela's eyes gleamed with inspiration. Goat cheese and Shiraz to start; strawberry, banana and chocolate-filled crepes with champagne to finish. But, whatever to fill the middle? Dropping the latest cookbook with a thud on the discard pile, her keen eyes scoured her iPad for delicious, delicacies for Fred and Lyanne to dine upon, tonight. Perusing her spreadsheet, her head ached while reviewing the plethora of appetizers, soups, salads, entrees.
As it was their 29th anniversary, with Celosia as the preferred flower, a beauty in red, grown widely in Spain, Manuela's lips curved into a smile. Spanish cuisine: chilled Yabby and Tomato soup, a simple green salad with a light dressing, followed by the piece de resistance, Paella with shellfish and chorizo, both accompanied by Sauvignon Blanc.
Stress rose from her shoulders, loosening the tight strap around her skull, left her energized to arranging the flowers then setting the table. The three taut raps on her door acted as music to her ears signifying that her cuisine team: Kris, Karly, Kate, had arrived, ready to work, standing, waiting on the stoop. Manuela breathed deeply, calm invigorating her system.
Leaving her kitchen busy, resplendent with sounds of cleaning, cutting, cubing, she backed out of her drive, driving her trusty sedan heading in the direction of Fabian's Flowers for deep-red tinted and toned blossoms and blooms where she left, arms full, flush with Brown Cymbidium Orchids, Dark Red Lilies, and White Calla Lilies, destined for two crystal vases. Zipping into her favoured bistro, Manuela treated herself to a take-out cappuccino to sip and savour while wheeling to buy pure-white table-linens and tapers.
An eery calm permeated the house upon her return. Instead of the steady hum of busyness, a cold, quietude silenced the space. With a reverberating BANG, Manuela's shoulder shoved the door closed. Slipping out of her shoes, on tenterhooks, she strode forward, under the arches, down the hallway, her eyes bulging at the destruction. Stools lay askew. The refrigerator alarm willfully rang. Flies flew in and around the uncovered bowls and platters.
A lime green post-it note fluttered from an open shelf.
We've had a bit of an emergency —
Kris badly cut her thumb, needing stitches Karly drove her to EMERG
Kate has gone for more shellfish
Manuela's heart hammered in her chest, a vice-grip smothering her breath. With practiced eyes, she surveyed the scene, selectively choosing what to save, which menu items to shelving, what ingredients to pitch in the bin.
As 16:00 hours chimed, the order returned. Kris, Kate and Karly rejoined Luella, and together, they masterfully recreated sunny Spain.
After four showers, two hot, one tepid and one bordering on frigid, she and her gals, chit-chatted over tapas and tea, calm and confident for the evening ahead.
Just as the last wick flicked into flame, the doorbells pealed, BingBong BingBong, interrupting the soft, sultry song of Espana. Manuela sauntered to the door, swinging it open, welcoming Fred and Lyanne into the warm, scented environment.
"Something smells divine!"
Three welcoming words.
Like a well-oiled machine, Kate, Karly, Kris and Manuela wined and dined, disarmed and charmed Fred and Lyanne, so that, as their dessert arrived, as champagne bubbles tickled their nostrils, the caterers hugged, celebrating yet another successful scintillating spectacle.
Once alone, her eyes traced the disastrous state of the kitchen, the linens draped with wax, the blots of crimson on the formerly pristine cloth. Filling a goblet with leftover wine, absently sipping, she sank onto one of the floral upholstered dining room chairs, resting her sore soles on a nearby chair's seat.
The soft light glanced off a shiny silver frame, in which Manuela stood, head to toe in cream, arm-in-arm with Pietro. Joy radiated from their faces, colouring their cheeks, lips, brightening from their eyes.
For a moment, Manuela could smell his sultry scent, that inimitable combination of sweat, citrus, and musk. Just the thought of his fragrance invited lust into her bloodstream. Closing her eyes, a movie replayed on her lids. She felt his warm kisses upon her neck, the small hairs on her arms tingling in anticipation.
Errant tears spilled down her face. She gulped in sorrowful breathes. Had it only been two years — it felt so much longer — the pain and emptiness still so profound and painful. Wiping away the wetness, she rose, tenderly grasping the frame in shaking hands, stroking his face beneath the glass. Gently placing her wedding portrait back on its shelf, Manuela blew a kiss — farewell to tonight's turmoil, adieu to agony, hello to hope.
The shower's spray stung her shoulders, sending shivers down her spine. The sudsy scent cleansed away all of the culinary mess. Cozy in her pink nightshirt, snuggled into puffy pillows, her face relaxed.
Just before sleep took her by the hand, Manuela spoke about her day with Pietro, relating the ebb and flow, the yin and yang, the perseverance, the penultimate positive outcome. Inside her mind, Pietro's voice responded, reminding that even, from his aneurysm, that fateful selfish sudden death, Manuela had, like a firebird, risen from these ashes, to rebuild, reframe her life's purpose, the result being her catering business.
"Remember, forever and a day, I will always love you. Loving you will never cease. Love is something we will share, forever and a day."
With his words echoing in her mind, Manuela's breathing deepened, as her psyche wandered along the whimsical paths to dreamland.