by Anthony Vasko
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She stood in front of the bathroom mirror stroking the mascara onto her eyelashes. When she was done she applied a modest amount of blush to her cheeks, tugged her bangs until they curled past the wrinkles towards her neatly plucked eyebrows.
“You look fine,” her husband said from the doorway.
“More than fine…you look as beautiful as the day I first saw you.”
She flashed a smile. “You don’t have to lie.”
“I’m not lying. There’s a few more wrinkles and a few—
“Okay. Okay. Stop while you’re ahead.”
They walked from the bathroom to the bedroom.
“Is this the coat you’re wearing?” he said.
He held it over her shoulders until she slipped her arms through the sleeves.
“Is your mother on her way?” she said.
“She’ll be here any minute.”
“Good. We get to do this once a year. And I want every minute of it.”
He walked to the closet and pulled his coat off of the hook on the door.
“Let me help you with that,” she said. “I know how sore your shoulder must be.”
“They’re fine. They still work.”
“They better. These shoulders are what feeds us.” She started to button the jacket from the bottom to the top. “Honey! What happened to the top one?”
He pulled it out of the pocket. “It came off.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? I could’ve sewed it back on.”
“You’ve been busy with the kids and the house…and besides, my scarf is long enough to cover my neck.”
She took the button out of his hand and set it on top of the dresser. “I’ll sew this when we get home. Don’t let me forget.”
Then they walked down the hallway to the living room. The kids were working on a puzzle at the dining room table.
“You guys are going to be good for grandma, right?” They all nodded. “You won’t fuss about brushing your teeth, or going to bed when she tells you, right?” They nodded again, thought about it, and then shook their heads. “Because if you’re good, you’ll get special treat when we get home. You want special treat, don’t you?”
Their eyes lit up. Then all three of them swarmed her. “We’ll be good mama,” the oldest girl said.
“How long mama?” the little boy said.
“Not long, honey.”
The younger daughter tugged on her sleeve again and again until she caught her attention. “I won’t cry at all.”
“Good, Lizzie Loo, I’m sure you won’t.”
Then the front door opened. “Grandma!” the kids shouted in unison before rushing into her arms.
The man looked at his watch and then pulled his wife towards the door. “Thanks mom. We won’t be too late.”
“Take your time,” she said. “You don’t get to do this very often.”
He opened the passenger door for her.
“Thank you,” she said.
He tried shutting it, but it only bounced off of the frame. They looked at each other. He tried it again, but with the same result. He looked closer and saw that the door handle was stuck open. He tugged on it until it loosened like normal. “Got it!” Then he walked around the car and stepped in. He turned the key, but nothing happened. So he pumped the gas as he held the clutch, and he tried again. The engine coughed and choked before stalling. Finally, on the third try, he got it to start and hold.
“Third time’s a charm,” she said.
“I don’t know how many charms this car has left,” he said.
“Enough for tonight…let’s hope.”
They drove down the snow-dusted streets slowly. He wasn’t going to test the tires. She tried turning the dial on the radio but only static.
“Oh yeah. Doesn’t work anymore,” he said.
She shrugged her shoulders. “They play all the same old songs anyway.”
He turned into the parking lot and then into a spot. He walked around the car, opened the door, and helped her out. He held her hand and led her to the door.
“You still remember this is my favorite restaurant in town,” she said as they entered.
He rolled his eyes. “You don’t have to lie.”
“There’s no line,” she said. “Must be our night.”
They approached the counter and looked up at the menu.
A teenage girl turned around at the fryer and walked to the cash register. “Dining in or taking out?”
“For here,” the man said. “But we’ll need a minute.”
“Do you want to get the usual?” she said. “Or do you want to do something else?”
“Whichever you’d like.”
“Let’s just stick with what works.” Then she stepped forward. “We’ll take a number one and an extra double cheeseburger.”
“Small, medium or large?” the girl said.
He opened his wallet and looked inside. “A small.”
“Wait!” the woman said. She dug her hand into her back pocket and pulled out a dollar bill. “Make it a large.”
“Alright. It’ll be $8.75…and here’s your cup.”
They combined the money, handed it to the girl, and took their cup to the soda station. “What do you want?” she said.
“You know I like sweet, but I know you like unsweet.”
“So we’ll do half and half.”
They picked up their tray and carried it to a booth by the window. They unwrapped their sandwiches, and she set the fries in the middle.
“Can I have your pickles?” she said.
He lifted his bun and passed them over the table. As she ate them she lifted her eyes and smiled at him.
“You sure like those pickles, huh?”
“It’s all about the little things.”
He dunked a fry in ketchup and then ate it. “Have the kids finished their Christmas lists yet?”
“Should I be worried?”
“Nope. I told ‘em they could pick one thing each, and one to share.”
He dropped his head. “Some dad I am.”
She reached across the table and lifted his chin so he was looking at her. “You are a great father. Don’t ever think any differently.”
“Yeah. Maybe they’re so young they won’t remember.” He set down his sandwich and looked out the window. “I wish I could say the same about you.”
“What’re you talking about?”
She turned his head straight again. “We’re blessed. I’ve never cared about where we go, or what we do. I’ve only cared about doing it with you.”
“They do have the best pickles here,” he said as a smile snuck past his firmly pressed lips.
“You don’t even like pickles.”
“I never said that.”
“Then why do you always give me yours?”
“Because you ask me for them.”
“Oh honey. That’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.”
He took the last bite of his cheeseburger and she took the last bite of hers. Then they picked at the fries. He liked the crispy ones and she liked them greasy and soggy. They passed the half and half tea back and forth until there was nothing but ice.
“Care for coffee?” she said.
“I’d love some, but I’m out of—
“I got it.” She opened her purse and fished through the contents until finally pulling out a two-dollar bill.
“But that’s your lucky two-dollar bill…you’re gonna spend it on a cup of coffee?”
“We’re lucky enough to be out just the two of us, aren’t we?” Then she sprung up and walked to the counter.
“Cream only?” he said as she sat back down.
“Yep. I make it for you every morning.”
“I don’t know if I’d say every morning.”
“Keep it up and see how much of this you get.”
They talked for another hour, until the manager mopped the tile floor around them, and it was time to go.
They walked across the parking lot to the car. He held the door for her, and then walked around to step in. He turned the key and it started, but as he shifted into reverse it sputtered and stalled. So he put it in park and tried again, with the same result. Finally, he looked at the dash. “We’re out of gas.”
“Don’t you have a gas can in the trunk?”
“Yeah. But it’s empty. And we spent—
“The lucky two-dollar bill at a very unlucky time.”
Once it set in, they laughed until they were both in tears. When he gathered himself he said, “May I walk you home?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
She tucked her arm inside of his and they started walking. It was a familiar path, which they had walked many times, when he was an awkward third-string tailback and she was the cheerleader who didn’t make the cut. He sang to her then, and he sang to her once again. When they got home, he kissed her at the bottom of the porch steps.
“You wanna come in?” she said.
“For the night?”
“As long as you don’t mind kids.”
“Are they good kids?”
“They’re great kids, but a couple of ‘em look like their dad…kind of goofy, but I’m hoping they grow out of it.”
He swept her into his arms. “I’ll show you awkward!”
Then he took a step, lost his feet, and showed her awkward as they tumbled into the snow-covered bushes.
When she was done laughing and brushing the snow out of her hair she said, “My point exactly!”
When they walked through the door they were kids no more. Reality rushed their way in the form of two daughters and a son.
“Were you guys good?” she said.
“Yes, mama. We were really good.”
“Good enough for special treat?”
“Yes yes,” the youngest said.
“Alright. Give grandma kisses, and then brush your teeth and get in my bed.”
“Thanks again, mom,” he said. “I hope they were good for you.”
“Yes, dear. They’re good kids.”
Then she left, and one by one each kid climbed into bed with their mother.
He hung his coat on the rack next to the door. Then he walked over to the light switch on the wall. Before flipping it from up to down, he saw the bills spread out on the kitchen counter. They were due soon, he thought. Then he flipped the switch and walked into the bedroom. Bodies, small and large, were spread from one side of the bed to the other.
“Is there any room for me?” he said.
The youngest poked her head above the covers and said, “There’s always room for you, papa. Right next to me.”
He climbed into bed, kissed all three of the tiny heads next to him, and then turned towards his wife.
“Thank you,” she said.
“For tonight. It was perfect.”
He kissed her and said, “Thank you.”
“For always making me feel like the king of the world.”
Then he turned out the light, took her hand into his, and they said their nightly prayers before going to bed.
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Anthony, It was just beautiful and very touching. God bless.