Dishes clanged in the kitchen as he prepared the meal. She always loved his pasta. She never really wanted a fancy dinner date, instead every year she just asked for him to make some of his special pasta. He had never told her, but the sauce was store bought. He always had to take out the trash to hide the can of pasta sauce. At first he was too embarrassed to admit the truth, but then it became kind of a fun game to see how long it would go on. Plus, he kind of liked that she was so impressed with his culinary prowess.
From his post in the kitchen he had the perfect view of her vanity table in the bedroom. While his “special sauce” was cooking, he always watched her getting ready for their date. As the years passed they had fewer and fewer dates for just the two of them. When the kids came along everything was a family affair. Once they had grown older they were just too tired to find a reason for a romantic night out. But this was always their one special evening in the year. And she always got ready as if she was to go out with a king.
He loved to watch her curl her hair, and the special way she pinned it back each year, just because she knew he liked it that way. She swiped brushes across her face with skill and grace, and she always made the most endearing faces as she put on her makeup. She always finished off her look with a red rose in her hair from the bouquet he’d bought her every single year they’d been together. As life goes on and things change, he was thankful her little routine did not. Every year it was the same, but every year it was even more fascinating.
“Something smells divine!” she’d always yell from her dressing table. This always made him smile and snicker. Maybe he’d be just a little more careless with hiding the empty can of pasta sauce this year. It was time she found out. And besides, that would be a laugh after all of these years.
While he finished preparing the meal, she always picked out the soundtrack for the evening. While he tossed the salad and set the table, she thumbed through their collection of old favorites. This was the only part of the evening that wasn’t always the same. She always something that represented the year they’d had. Sometimes it was happy, sometimes it was sad, but it was always just right. He loved the way she took this job so seriously. She would peruse every single album they owned until she found just the right one. She had a way with music. But, to him, she had a way with everything. She could make everything “just right.” She could make everything feel like home.
When dinner was finally ready they sat down at a candlelit table with their perfect music playing softly in the background. They always ate their meal and exchanged some small, sweet gift. Long ago, when youth still twinkled in their eyes, he had given her a cheap little heart necklace. Despite the fact that he had gotten her much nicer, more expensive gifts as the years continued, that first valentine was always her most treasured item. She always pulled it out for this special occasion.
He carefully placed this year’s gift at her spot. A simple bouquet of roses this year. The last few months had been the hardest yet, so he hoped that the roses would cheer her up. He knew he would not get a gift from her this year, but that didn’t keep him from holding out hope for some special moment with her.
He unpacked his basket, plated the food, and set up the little radio. This year they’d have to settle for what was on the radio. He didn’t quite have her gift with music. He missed his favorite parts of their evening this year. Why did life have to be so cruel sometimes? He wondered why aging seemed to take everything happy away eventually. Life had taken so much from him already. The man in the mirror was hardly familiar anymore. But she had always been his constant.
He began to eat his “special” spaghetti while he talked over the year with her, recounting all of the great moments in their life. The births of their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. When they retired. Their big second honeymoon. There were so many little moments. But now those days were over. He decided this was the year to tell her about the special sauce. He knew she couldn’t respond, but why not.
Things were so different now. And they’d never be the same again. He slowly packed away all of his things, with hands much more wrinkly and shaky than ever before. He packed away the photo last. Their wedding photo from 50 years before. They had changed ever so much since those days. All the hopes in their eyes in that old picture had been fulfilled. Except for one. He had always hoped he’d never have to feel this pain. He’d made her promise that he could go first. But unfortunately you can’t really decide those things for yourself.
Tears rolled off the edge of the old photo. He placed her old heart necklace on the edge of the stone. He intended to give it to their beloved only granddaughter, but he couldn’t stomach the thought of seeing it on anyone but her.
He carefully placed the roses in the vase and stayed for just another moment to gaze at the photo again. He couldn’t bring himself to leave just yet. He laid down on the grass next to the monument and ran his fingers across her name. Why did it have to be this way? After all of these years.
He propped the photo up beside him on the ground and gazed at it. He promised himself he would leave in just a minute. Or maybe two. But he just couldn’t bring himself to go.
They found him there the next morning, clutching the picture. He had the sweetest smile on his face. They’d never have to be separated again. He’d gotten his present after all.