When Samantha returned from her morning’s adventures, she found their love nest bursting with salsa music. Hubby, Alejandro, stood tall over the kitchen island with his hands inside a silver, mixing bowl. He tossed diced tomatoes, chopped garlic, and minced basil leaves in a bath of virgin olive oil to the rhythms of Oscar De León. He would later top the garlic-y mixture off with a pinch of salt and four twists of his pepper mill. Alejandro engaged in the serious business of making his wife a satisfying lunch—a task he never took lightly. 

When he was in the kitchen, which was often, Alejandro worked with such intensity that a stranger might mistake his passion for anger. But friends and family knew that the extreme focus and crinkled brow was Alejandro’s look of concentration and there was no place he concentrated more than in the kitchen. 

“You hungry yet? I’ll have some bruschetta ready for you in just a minute,” Alejandro bounced around from one corner of the kitchen to the other—one second in the fridge for a lemon, the next back in the oven checking that the broiler toasted the edges of the baguette slices just right, all while sipping from his glass of Cabernet.

Samantha sat at the island and placed the canvas bag on an adjacent stool, “It smells really good,” she responded, tapped the jellybeans and Magic 8-Ball inside the bag and thought, later. She wanted to enjoy Alejandro performing one of her favorite activities, so she poured herself a bit of the Cabernet and sat front row to take in the show. When Alejandro cooked Sam forgot everything—especially her frustrations.

He zipped more of his wine from the stovetop where he stirred the creamy black peppercorn sauce for his Steak au Poivre then it was back to the oven to check on the baguettes. The edges were browned enough to his liking. With a professional flick of the wrist, he took the kitchen towel off his shoulder and dove in after the baking sheet, “Almost,” he assured her.

Like all proper chefs, Alejandro owned an exhausted collection of kitchen towels. At least a dozen at any given time, with half a dozen in active use. The main dry towel always hung steady on his shoulder in case there was wiping to be done, drying of the hands or need for an emergency potholder. That one was changed out daily to be rinsed then thrown back into the rotation. His bleach towel kept his station clean. He could usually get fourteen good wipes out of it with a clean side. The hot-handle towel lived wrapped around his tongs and kept on a stainless spoon rest when it wasn’t in his left hand. There was a time when all Alejandro got for Christmas were bouquets of kitchen towels.

“Okay, tell me what you think,” Alejandro turned around and gave Sam a square plate with six bruschetta slices overflowing with goodness. He picked up what he considered to be the most perfect of all the bites, lifted it to her lips and waited patiently until Samantha parted her lips, opened her mouth wide, and bit down into the Italian flavors.

“Wow,” Sam mumbled through her first bite. She loved the earthiness of the basil, the sweetness of the tomatoes and the smooth tones of olive oil. Sam loved the sharp garlic and the salty kick of the prosciutto even more. “Wow,” she repeated with a smile.

Alejandro smiled and returned to his sauce. Sam licked her fingers and daydreamed about the first meal he cooked for her on their second date. The kitchenette in her college dorm was a substandard cooking environment but Alejandro had wanted to impress her and had to make it work. He had knocked on her door holding a grocery bag with the ingredients he’d need for his Baked Ziti Surprise—the surprise—bacon.

That night, Sam and Alejandro had not noticed the time go by as they talked the hours away waiting for the slow-baking process that makes for such great casseroles. The kitchenette’s sofa was weathered and uncomfortable, but it had seemed like heaven to Samantha, who spent the night staring at his lips while he talked. Watching him walk back and forth from the sofa to the tiny oven in his tight faded jeans was also delightful.

Sam had been aroused watching him cook her ziti. She got excited watching him finish their lunch. But for twenty-plus years, her feelings of arousal always seemed untimely, inconvenient, or overwrought. She didn’t dare interrupt him in the middle of Steak au Poivre if she wanted the afternoon to go well. As much as Alejandro loved pleasing his wife with culinary creations, he knew the delicate timing of food consumption was just as important to the success of a meal—after all, who would want even the best scrambled eggs in the world after they’ve been sitting out getting cold. That was why when they argued and Sam wanted to really piss him off, she would start cleaning his messy kitchen counters and sinks just as he announced dinner was ready and sat the plates out on the table. 

After a satisfying hour of chitchat, steak, shoestring squash and a new bottle of Merlot, Sam sought the right moment to start waving her not-so-white jellybean flag, “This was really good. I don’t know why we throw our money away on mediocre dinners out when you—”

“Okay, okay. Stop stroking my inner chef. I’m the one trying to apologize here. In case you missed it, my surprise lunch was—”

“No. I’m the one that owes you an apology,” She insisted, “I’ve been overreacting to all this Act Two stuff and I really need to chill the fuck out…so here…dessert’s on me,” she pulled her first purchase out of the bag and pushed the gourmet jellybeans across the stainless counter. 

“Awww…Sammy?” He was taken by the gesture but happier still that they were not fighting anymore. 

“Ewww, don’t call me that.” She geared up to introduce her second item. “Now, promise not to laugh.”