Rita worked tirelessly preparing a romantic dinner for two. It was the first Valentine’s Day that she and Paul had spent together, and she wanted everything to be perfect.
The night before, Rita and Paul had sat down and watched the classic Disney film, “Lady and the Tramp”, and she felt inspired by the spaghetti scene. She prepared the sauce from an old family recipe that her Grandmother had brought over from the old country. Garlic bread sat upon the countertop as the oven preheated, and a bottle of Santa Margherita Cabernet Sauvignon was chilling on ice. On the table, sat two white tapered candles. The wax dripped slowly down the stem toward the pewter candle holders.
The doorbell rang just as the oven indicated that it was preheated. She slid the garlic bread into the oven, and pressed the stereo remote for the CD player that was pre-set to play a mixed CD of romantic ballads while they ate. Everything was perfect.
The doorbell rang a second time before Rita finally arrived to open it. Paul stood smiling with a bouquet of roses and a Valentine card in his hand. He leaned over, kissed her lips softly, and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetheart.”
Rita welcomed him in and asked him to pour them each a glass of wine while she finished with dinner. He poured the wine and they raised their glasses while Paul offered to toast the evening.
“Rita, with this being our first Valentine’s Day together, I would like to say…Is something burning?”
Rita was confused at Paul’s toast at first, then realized that she had forgotten about the garlic bread. She ran to the oven and shut it off. As she opened the oven door, grey smoke billowed out into the kitchen, setting off the smoke detector.
Rita panicked at the sound of the beeping noise and tried to remove the hot baking pan without oven mitts. The tips of two of her fingers were burned and she instantly reacted to the pain. Just then, the pasta began to boil over onto the stovetop. With her burning fingers, she tried to stir the spaghetti, yelping with each turn.
Paul grabbed her by the shoulders and asked her to sit down. She did as he asked. First, Paul removed the pasta from the hot burner, silenced the smoke detector, then removed the garlic bread from the oven. He scraped off the burnt portion of the bread, stirred the pasta, and returned it to the heated burner to finish cooking.
Rita sat back and admired how well Paul was able to handle himself in the kitchen, though she felt bad about nearly ruining their night. Paul could see her disappointment and assured her that it was not her fault. Instead, he said that it was his fault for distracting her.
After treating the burns on Rita’s fingers with some cool water, they sat down to enjoy a delicious meal. Paul held a long strand of spaghetti between his pursed lips and leaned toward Rita. She smiled and leaned forward as well, grabbing onto the other end of the pasta with her mouth. Inch-by-inch, they nibbled away at it until their lips met with a sauce-covered kiss.
In the background, Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You”, played and their eyes connected in an emotional gaze. Paul reached out with his right hand and caressed Rita’s left cheek with the back of his fingers, brushing her hair back behind her ears. Once again, their lips met. This time, his passionate touch sent quivers throughout Rita’s body.
She blew out the candles and led him down the hall to her bedroom where they made love until it was nearly sunrise. As they laid in bed the following morning, Paul’s phone rang. It was his boss. The company that he worked for was short-handed, and since Paul was the only other person qualified to drive the forklift, he was needed there immediately. Paul tried to get out of it, but his boss insisted plus offered to pay him double time for his troubles.
Paul climbed into the shower and Rita joined him soon after. She wanted him to have something happy to think about while he worked that day. It worked.
As time went by, their relationship grew stronger with each passing day. Every year, they would choose a new destination to spend their vacation together. One year it was Paris, France. The next year was Florence, Italy, where Rita introduced Paul to some of her relatives that she had not seen herself for many years.
Three years into their relationship, Paul finally popped the question. It was on Valentine’s Day to commemorate the day that brought them closer together. To avoid another kitchen mishap, he instead took Rita to a fancy Italian restaurant where they ordered spaghetti and meatballs along with a glass of red wine. A portly Italian man with a bushy black mustache played the violin as an equally portly woman sang Italian songs. They traveled from table to table entertaining the guests. When they came to Paul and Rita’s table, they played a familiar tune. It was the song, “Bella Notte” from the spaghetti scene of “Lady and the Tramp”.
Rita looked at Paul and could tell by the look in his eyes that he had planned the whole thing. She just smiled and listened intently. When they finished, Paul got down on one knee and held Rita by the hand. Inside the other hand, he held an open box. In the box was a beautiful heart-shaped diamond ring. The light from the candles made the diamond glimmer.
“Rita,” Paul began, “You stole my heart three years ago, and now I only have this heart left to give to you. I would love for you to cherish it and keep it safe as you have my heart. Would you do me the privilege of becoming my wife?”
Tears of joy began to cascade down her cheeks, and once she was able to regain her composure, she replied with “Yes! A million times over, YES!”
One year later, on Valentine’s Day, they were married. The ceremony was not overly extravagant. There were about fifty guests in total and it took place in one of their favorite places, Disneyland. They asked if they could have Lady and the Tramp as part of the wedding party, but unfortunately, that was not a possibility. Instead, they had Mickey and Minnie Mouse join them as they exchanged their vows.
They stayed at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa for one week before flying back home. It was a fabulous trip despite the torrential rainfalls that seemed to end almost as quickly as they appeared. It only mattered to them that the wedding day was not rained on.
Back home, they emptied the apartments that each of them rented and moved it all to a quaint one-story ranch-style home that they had purchased before the wedding. As they reached the front door, Rita unlocked it, but before she could enter, Paul scooped her up in his arms and carried her over the threshold.
Except for a few arguments here and there over family and credit card bills, they had wedded bliss. Paul had been promoted to Warehouse Manager and Rita worked part-time as a beauty consultant. They truly could not be happier.
Paul would leave for work at 6:30 AM every morning Monday to Friday. They would spend breakfast together and she would kiss him goodbye as he walked out the door. It had become a tradition. In the evening, Paul would arrive home at around 3:30 PM and Rita would again greet him at the door with a kiss as he came in. They would then sit down and discuss their days before having dinner.
One rainy evening, at 3:45 PM, Paul still had not arrived home. She called his cellphone, but there was no answer. She called his work, but they said that he had clocked out at 3:00 PM. Rita began to worry. The storm outside was getting worse. She sat in the living room and stared out the window into the front yard, hoping to spot his car coming around the corner.
At 6:23 PM, as the sun began to set, a set of headlights turned into the driveway. Rita jumped up from the couch and ran to the front door, swinging it open excitedly. Walking up onto the front porch was a police officer dressed in rain gear.
“Are you Mrs. Rita Hillier?” the officer asked.
“Yes, I am,” Rita replied. “What is this all about?”
“Ma’am, I am afraid your husband, Paul was in a serious collision earlier this evening. I am sorry to say, he died at the scene.”
Rita dropped to the ground. She was completely flabbergasted. She tried to convince herself and the police officer that there must have been some sort of mistake. The officer stood with a solemn look upon his face before saying, “If you could come with me, ma’am, we will need you to identify the remains.”
Reality began to set in, and Rita burst into tears. The officer’s female partner joined him on the porch and offered Rita her assistance while the other officer returned to the vehicle. They locked up the house and headed to the morgue.
Rita was brought to a window where a corpse laid covered up on a steel table. The coroner stood above the body and asked Rita if she was ready. She nodded.
As the sheet was pulled back, Rita once again began to cry uncontrollably. The coroner covered the corpse back up and asked Rita if she could identify the deceased. She told him that it was her husband, Paul. The female officer escorted Rita back outside and drove her home.
She laid in bed that night picturing Paul’s face in the morgue. He looked so peaceful. She knew that sleep was not a possibility, so she went back out to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. She then sat down in Paul’s favorite recliner chair and looked down at her rings, then around the room. Hanging proudly above the fireplace was a picture from their wedding. Mickey and Minnie Mouse stood on either side of them. The four of them stood next to a stand-up display of Lady and the Tramp. She then looked back at her ring and said, “I give my heart to you, Paul; now and forever.”
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I thought to myself one more read before bed, and saw this one. On the one hand I am not disappointed as this was a lovely story, well written and the characters were well developed for a short story. On the other hand I am now quite depressed and rather sad heading to bed, as it had such a sad ending and I really feel for Rita. A really heartbreaking tale, well written.
Thank you very much, but I am sorry for putting you into a depressive state before bed. I will try to make the next one more upbeat.
Lol. It’s all good.