"25 minutes, cutting this a little close," David thought to himself as he removed the nearly cooked steaks from the oven. The middle-aged man had lost nearly an hour consoling his youngest daughter over the phone. And another 20 thinking of ways to dispose of the young man that'd broken his baby's heart.
He shook himself free of the anger that surged back into his chest every time it crossed his mind and focused on cooking. The steaks hit the cast iron pan with a sizzle, followed by butter, diced garlic, and rosemary. The heavenly aroma filled the kitchen and David glanced at the clock above the sink. "20 minutes," He flipped the steaks with another sizzle and moved quickly towards the wine cabinet.
A small, yet sad, smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. The bottle of Pinot Noir had been an anniversary present from Isabel. An Anniversary they both worked through and never truly celebrated. "C'mon, babe, we've celebrated 19 anniversaries. What's the big deal if we miss this one?" Isabel hadn't seemed convinced. We'll celebrate another night." David had promised and his wife had agreed but it never truly sat well with Isabel. And David knew it, even if she'd never brought it up.
"I'll make it up to you tonight," He said aloud as he poured two glasses and set them at the dinner table. The man returned to the skillet and removed his steak. A nice medium-rare with a perfect sear. Isabel preferred hers well done, something that drove him crazy but he'd keep that to himself if only for the night.
David plated the dinner and set them down before he glanced back at the clock one last time. "8 minutes till she gets home," David thought with a bit of giddy excitement as he went to turn away. But his eyes stopped on a picture that sat on the shelf. A picture he'd seen thousands of times but couldn't recall the last tie he'd actually looked at it. Their wedding day 20 years ago. Quietly, he took the picture from its place on the shelf and sat down.
David studied the photograph as if he'd never seen it before.
His younger self, just 26 years old his medium-length reddish-brown hair that had long since greyed. A closed-lipped smile that didn't exude the excitement and joy he'd felt at that moment. A small chuckle at the glistening of his forehead. "A beach wedding in the Florida summer probably wasn't the best idea." He recalled his brother and best man complaining as they sweat in their suits.
Next, his eyes fell on his wife. Her dark brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. The traditional white dress that still hung in their closet. He felt his heart flutter when he looked at the bright smile and the way she was leaning into him, pulled closer by his arm around her thin shoulders. Isabel's beautiful brown eyes beamed in the late afternoon sunshine.
David moved to the 3 daughters that had come with his marriage. "The world's best package deal," David had joked while they were dating.
Their oldest, Ava standing tucked slightly behind her mother and warm smile on her face. Her lavender-colored dress, the same as her sisters, practically glowing. One small hand doing its best to block the sun.
Ava had been the hardest of the girls to win over. At 6 years old when he met her, she was old enough to recall being abandoned by her biological father. So Ava had done everything in her power to avoid him. "You're just gonna leave too," She'd once said. David could still remember the wave of sadness and anger that had engulfed him.
"I'm not going anywhere. Ever." David assured her, and himself.
Now his middle daughter, Cammie, standing in front of him and her mother. Isabel's hands resting gently on her thing shoulders. Cammie was missing her 2 front teeth but smiling wide nonetheless. The girl was barefoot in the grass and they'd never found her shoes. "Baby, where did your shoes go?" He'd asked upon noticing, to which the girl just shrugged and said continued to swing her arms from side to side. Something she'd only stopped doing briefly for the picture. Keeping Cammie in one place for more than a minute or so had been nearly impossible as a child. Admittedly, they had never tried very hard to corral her.
"My little bird," David said to himself with a smile.
Finally, his eyes went to the toddler on his hip in the photograph, Lili. Lili's head rested on his shoulder, her cheeks flushed a bright red. A day of allergies, miserably hot weather, and a hairdresser pulling her hair into an uncomfortable ponytail had left her exhausted. The memory of her squirming her way out of Isabel's arms and into his came to mind.
"Sorry," David had apologized instinctively as Lili settled in against him.
Isabel shook her head. "It's okay, I think she just needs her Daddy right now," Isabel had smiled warmly at him as she removed the toddler's ponytail and let her natural curls spill down her back. A swell of happiness filled his chest at the memory.
Still seated at the kitchen table, David heard the front door open and close. He couldn't pry his eyes off the picture but he did manage to wipe the single tear from his cheek.
"Aw, babe, did you cook us din-" She stopped when she saw him motionlessly at the table. She wrapped her arms around him from behind, her chest to his back and her cheek to his.
"I always loved that picture,"
David nodded and fought back the lump in his throat. He wanted to tell her how much he loved her and their daughters. How immeasurably grateful he was for the family she'd given him. "Thank you," David forced out. "For everything, I can't imagine-" He briefly imagined a life with his family.
"You'll never have to," She pressed a kiss to his cheek and returned to looking at the photo. "Can we eat now? I'm kind of starving here," Isabel asked playfully.
"You go ahead and start, I need another minute,"