I checked the oven temperature, making certain of the pre-heat alarm. I had spent quite a bit on this oven so there was no real reason for me not to trust it, but in culinary school they had drilled it into us that you can never be too careful.
“The only thing you can be absolutely certain of in your kitchen is you,” Chef Gerhard would say. “Be certain of that, if of nothing else. Get into good habits, and keep to them, and you’ll cut down on the chaos caused when everything else in your little world goes to shit right before your eyes — because trust me, it will.”
Well tonight I was taking no chances. Tonight was a special night and it was going to be perfect if it killed me. Spending Valentines Day night with the girl of my dreams, finally getting to spend some serious time with her, was worth any extra effort it might take to make the evening just right. The oven checked out at precisely four hundred and fifty degrees, so I scooped up the baking pan containing the main meat course and slid it, uncovered, onto the middle rack.
“There,” I said, closing the oven door and spinning, somewhat gracefully I thought, to face her. “A half-hour at four fifty to sear the surface and lock in the favor, then I can cover it and reduce the heat to three hundred for an hour, and then viola! Dinner is served.”
She smiled as I slid into the seat across from her, and I’d swear her smile widened to a grin when I picked up the bottle from the table between us, a nice little Pinot Noir I’d picked out to compliment the main course. I poured us each a glass, and offered a toast.
“To the first of many nights for us to spend in each-other’s company,” I said, crystal meeting crystal with a musical little ting. She nodded in agreement, her smile, still in place beneath eyes that shone with happiness, silently saying more than any mere words ever could. We drank, our gazes locked over matching tilts of the glasses.
“Well,” I said, after licking the last droplets of wine from my lips in what I desperately hoped was a sensuous manner,”we have better than an hour to kill, Love, though I’ll still be busy preparing the rest.”
I cast my head back and threw a wrist across my brow like some drama queen from those old silent films, and my voice grew deeper and more rich as I Proclaimed as if from a great stage.
“Please, do keep me company as I cook. To be parted from you on this night, even for a moment might be more than I could endure!”
It was corny, I know, but it seemed to work as her eyes brightened still further.
At least she made no move to flee from the room.
I moved about the kitchen, grabbing this or that, adding a pinch of spice here, a dash of salt there, the whole time keeping up a line of snappy patter. I had pictured this evening for so long, planned it all out again and again, I knew everything I wanted to say. It was less a conversation than it was a performance, and I was spot on for the whole show. I was witty. I was funny. I was charming. She made all the responses I’d hoped for, smiled and laughed at all the right spots. If I’d been an actor it would have been the performance of a lifetime. Hell, it was the performance of s lifetime, my lifetime, and all for an audience of one. I won that audience of one over that night, won her heart during that performance, and when the timer on the over went off to indicate the main course was ready I could see in her eyes that she was mine.
It was the best night of my life.
It was the best night ever.
I put the last serving dish on the table between us, the main meat course, and I looked deep into her eyes, as deeply as she looked into mine.
“My darling,” I said, “I love you. I have always loved you, for as long as I can remember. I was always afraid to tell you, hell, I was always afraid to talk to you, before tonight. But I am so glad I did, so glad I got over my fear and asked you to this special evening. I am overjoyed that you accepted.”
I cleared my throat, fighting back tears, striving to look manly though it was so damn hard.
“I gave you my heart so long ago, I can’t tell you how it feels to finally have yours in return.”
I took a sip of my wine, as red as the blood still pooling from her open chest, took the lid off the serving dish and gazed upon this heart I had won. Crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, she watched with glassy eyes and frozen grin as I carved off a small slice, put it to my lips, and took the first bite.