And yes, my little town of North Eldredge is smack dab between Boston and Providence, so we’re not lacking for classic Italian cuisine. Take your pick. I prefer Federal Hill, myself, but Josie likes Boston, better.
Still, I have to be honest…for my family, there are a lot of memories associated with the Olive Garden, particularly the one located near the train station in South Attleboro. This was where we took Annie the day that we brought her to her grandfather’s funeral, when her biological dad wouldn’t say more than one word to her. This was where Josie and I celebrated our last true anniversary as man and wife. Martinis and Italian sauces. Tours of Italy. Breadsticks. So many conversations, so many ghosts.
So naturally, this was where we took Annie for her 19th birthday. Annie was just out of her sickbed, and still looking pale as a ghost. Her boyfriend, a big brawny guy with a broad smile, sat by her, caressing her shoulder, sometimes even getting the nerve to kiss her on her cheek. Josie to my left, Ashley to my right. Tiger, stuck in a corner, more interested in playing his Game Boy.
I sat there, nibbling on my third breadstick, sneaking a few dabs of Josie’s artichoke dip. “You’re going to load up on all this,” she warns me. “You won’t have any room for your main course.”
Josie knows me too well. She should, after practically twenty years. I ended up taking only a few bites out of the main course. But they made for great leftovers. I even had the birthday cake.
Right as we’re about to order, I hear the sound of my cell phone. Mozart’s Toy Symphony. I glance at the number. It’s my sweetie.
“Hey there,” I say.
“Hey. Are you alone?”
“Hardly. We’re just about to order.”
“Okay. I won’t keep you. I just wanted to say that I love you.”
I look around the table, and I smile, and I feel warm inside. The interior noise drowns out Corb’s voice, but it won’t drown out mine. I pause for a moment, feeling like a schoolboy. “Ummm…”
“Don’t say anything,” he says, laughing. “No. Say, ‘yes.’”
“You love me?”
“YES! God, yes.”
“That’s all I needed to hear. Go back to your ordering.”
“Will do,” I laugh. “Do you want anything?”
“You’ve got that,” I say. “Always.”
And I hang up. And we go about the rest of our dinner. Annie loves her present. I think she likes the card I gave her, too.
Josie leaves the party first. She has an issue to deal with at work, and has to go back. But on the way out, I discover that she’s still there, talking to a blond woman who looks strangely familiar. “Ted, do you remember Joanne?” she asks, as I make it to the entrance, my arm around Ashley, Tiger tagging behind. “She used to live downstairs from us, in our first apartment.”
I give Joanne a hug. I remember her, just a little bit. Her memory seems like a vague blur, like a snapshot photo of a figure running through the shot. I remember, she had a son and daughter. She tells me she is no longer with the man she was with at the time. Josie and I grin and do not make any mention of the fact that things are different for the two of us, as well.
Later that night. Tiger is on the foldout bed, starting to fall asleep. Ashley is in the little bedroom, working on simplifying fractions. I look through Tiger’s work folder. He’s starting to create journal entries that actually say something. How to build a snowman. How he lived through the blizzard.
I flip through the pages of the red folder, scanning the composition papers, reading through the pages of my son’s life.
“My winter vacaition wass very very fun. First, I played video games Then I went to Grandmas. And then, Opend presents and spent the day at my Grandmas. I went to Appleby’s. my friend Corbett brot over legoes. Soon, I played outside in the snow sledding. Finally, we did the yankee swap on New Years Eve and that’s what I did in winter fun.”
I place the paper back into the folder and smile.
My friend Corbett.
It’s saying something, when you make it into a little kid’s journal.
My friend, Corbett.
It means that you’re family.
I love you, too, Corb.