I’d just sat down at the kitchen table with a cup of tea when I heard someone knock on the front door. “Enzo, can you get that?”
“What?” he called from the living room.
“Can you get the door? Someone’s knocking!”
“You’re going shopping?”
I shook my head and pushed my creaky old bones up out of the kitchen chair, abandoning my tea.
Enzo’s hearing had been getting progressively worse over the last five years, but the damn fool was so vain he refused to wear his hearing aids. He was convinced they cramped his style.
“You don’t need style when you’re eighty-five,” I chided him constantly. “You need to be able to hear people when they’re talking to you.”
He’d looked offended, sweeping a hand over his hair. It was still remarkably full, although totally white now and his hairline had slightly receded. Even so, he was still the most handsome man I’d ever known, and he never failed to make my heart beat a little quicker when he gave me a certain look with those dark eyes.
“Speak for yourself,” he’d reply. “I will always need style.”
I appealed to his ego. “What if someone is giving you a compliment? Don’t you want to be able to hear it?”
“I just assume everyone is giving me a compliment, that makes it easy.” Then he’d grabbed me and started to dance right in our kitchen. “Do you hear that music?”
“No,” I said, laughing. “There’s no music playing.”
“Well, I always hear music. So I don’t want my ears fixed.”
Even after more than fifty years of marriage, he often did romantic things like that—danced with me in the kitchen, reached things in the high cupboards, opened every door, kissed me goodnight. His hearing might have faded, but his love for me had not.
Nor had mine for him.
As I passed him on my way to answer the door, I grabbed the remote off the coffee table and turned down the volume on the TV. He looked up at me in surprise.
“Someone’s knocking on the door,” I said, a little louder than my normal voice. “It’s probably Alessia.”
Enzo’s face lit up. A visit from any one of our twelve grandchildren was always a treat. “Really?”
“Yes, she’s going to interview us for her school project, remember?”
He nodded. “Right, right. I remember.”
I went to the door and pulled it open—still the same heavy wooden front door we’d refinished the week we moved into the Center Avenue house, although it took a little more effort on my part to yank it free of the jamb these days. I was in good health, but a little frailer than I used to be.
As soon as I saw Alessia’s face, I smiled. “Hello, sweetheart!”
“Hi, Nonna.” Our oldest grandchild, Alessia, was sixteen and strikingly beautiful, with the Moretti eyes and our daughter Natalia’s fair skin and lightly freckled nose—which had been mine first. Alessia stepped into the house with a backpack slung over one shoulder and hugged me.
Over her shoulder, I saw a car parked along the street. “Did you really drive here yourself? In the snow?”
She giggled. “Yes. I’ve had my license for months, Nonna. We’ve been over this.”
“I know, but . . .” I sighed as I swung the door shut. “It seems like just yesterday your mom was turning sixteen.” Alessia’s mom was our second oldest, born just eight minutes after her twin brother. We’d added to our family every couple years after that—two more biological children, then two we adopted, and one last biological surprise—and nothing had brought us more joy than watching our family grow. “No, I take it back,” I said as we moved into the living room, where dozens of framed photographs attested to five decades of good times—First Communions and graduations and weddings and birthdays and holidays and, of course, baseball games. One of my favorite pictures was of the Bellamy Creek Bulldogs after a league championship game, where Enzo had been hoisted up and carried off the field by his closest childhood buddies Griffin, Cole, and Beckett after stealing home to clinch the win. Their kids had grown up right alongside ours, and we still considered them all family.
Time had gone by so quickly—but what good times we’d had.
Alessia went straight to her grandfather, who rose to his feet with only a little difficulty. “Hi, Nonno,” she said, embracing him. She, too, spoke a little louder than usual, and I loved her even more for it.
“Hi, piccolina.” He hugged her and tugged her earlobe like he had when she was little. “What’s new?”
“I’m working on a project for the school newspaper for Valentine’s Day,” she said, sitting down in the chair opposite the couch and pulling a notebook and pen from her backpack. “It’s about how couples who have been together a long time met and fell in love.”
Enzo lowered himself to the couch again. “Easy. We met when we were kids. She took one look at me and that was it.” He snapped his fingers. “She loved me instantly. All the girls did.”
Alessia laughed, and I rolled my eyes. “Sweetheart, can I get you something to drink or eat? I made chicken soup this afternoon, and I have pizzelle, and I have some meatballs in the fridge. I could heat those up for you in a nice sandwich.”
“No thanks, Nonna, I’m not hungry.”
“But you have to eat,” I insisted. Like all Italian grandmothers, I was happiest when I was feeding people I loved.
She smiled, indulging me. “Maybe when we’re done, I’ll have some pizzelle. They’re my favorite.”
“Good. Then I’ll send you home with some soup and meatballs.” Pushing my glasses up my nose, I took the seat next to Enzo on the couch.
“So I know you met as kids,” Alessia said, turning to a fresh page in her notebook. “Do you remember the year?”
I frowned. “No. We were pretty young. But I do recall a dance our parents forced him to take me to at my all-girls high school. I guess you could call that our first date.” Laughing, I shook my head. “It did not go well.”
Alessia grinned. “Why not?”
“Because she brought a book and kept her nose in it all night long, that’s why,” Enzo said, as if he were still grumpy about it almost seventy years later.
Our granddaughter looked at me. “What book was it? Do you remember?”
“Of course I do,” I said dreamily. “It was Twilight.”
Alessia cocked her head and squinted. “I don’t think I know it.”
“You’re not missing anything,” Enzo said.
“So if your first date didn’t go well, when did you fall in love?”
Enzo and I looked at each other and smiled. “That took a while,” I said. “I lived in Chicago for a few years after college, and then I moved back here and we got reacquainted.”
“She realized she’d been crazy to pass up her chance with me all those years before,” added Enzo, pointing at her notebook. “Write that down.”
I laughed. “We actually didn’t get along any better than we had before—not right away, anyway. It took a little time. We had to get over our initial impressions.”
Alessia made a couple notes. “What were your initial impressions?”
Again, Enzo and I exchanged a look. “I thought she was an annoying know-it-all,” said my husband of fifty-plus years, “and a real pain in the culo.”
“And I thought he was an egotistical jerk,” I said emphatically. “There was no way I was ever going to fall for him.”
“But I always thought she was beautiful,” Enzo went on, putting an arm around me. “She had the most incredible blue eyes I’d ever seen, and I loved her red hair.”
I looked at him. “Do you still love me even though it’s white now?”
“Even more.” He kissed my temple.
“And of course, I’d always thought he was handsome—everyone did,” I admitted. “Girls really did used to fall all over him. I never thought he’d pay me any attention, so I pretended I didn’t want it.”
“It worked,” Enzo said, rubbing my shoulder. “And it really bugged me.”
Alessia laughed. “So what made you fall in love?”
“Well, believe it or not, I don’t think we really fell in love until after we got married,” I told her.
Her eyes popped open wide. “Really? Why’d you get married if you weren’t in love?”
We looked at each other again, and all of a sudden I saw Enzo as he’d looked on our wedding day at City Hall. The dark hair. The suit and tie. The earnest, slightly nervous expression on his face as he handed me the box with the earrings in it. The way I’d wanted to laugh listening to him read those ridiculous vows. The night we’d spent together at the Bellamy Creek Inn.
He was looking at me too—and in his eyes I saw reflected the girl I was then. The red hair, the white dress, the trembling flowers, maybe even the plaid pajamas.
“You know, I think in our own way, we did love each other that day,” I said slowly. “It just took us a while to recognize it. But all love stories are different—not all of them are love at first sight. Sometimes it takes a second look.”
Enzo’s mouth curved into the grin that could still make my heart beat faster. “She couldn’t resist the smolder for long.”
Alessia giggled. “The what?”
“The smolder.” He looked at her, his expression smug. “It worked like magic.”
“But what was it?”
“I’d look at her like this”—he turned to me and attempted a half-lidded come-hither stare behind the lenses of the thick glasses he now wore—“and she’d melt.”
Alessia looked at me with a grin. “Nonna, is this true?”
“Partially,” I said, unable to keep from laughing at my husband’s octogenarian smolder.
“Of course it’s true. She can’t resist me even now.” With some effort, Enzo rose to his feet and held out his hand. “Come on, dance with me.”
“What?” I looked at him like he was crazy.
“Oh, now it’s you who can’t hear? Dance with me.” He tilted his head and gave me that crooked grin, and just like he said, I couldn’t resist. Putting my hand in his, I let him help me up and put his arms around me.
Alessia immediately started to take a video on her phone. “This is so perfect,” she said as he started to sway rhythmically and hum “Witchcraft” in my ear. “So you guys have been married for more than fifty years, you raised a family of seven kids, and you’re still in love. What’s the secret?”
Although my throat was tight, I smiled as I thought of all the memories within these walls, the good days and bad days that had all ended the same way—in each other’s arms. “Remembering that love can still be beautiful even when it’s messy.”
“And the smolder,” added Enzo, turning us around so he could catch his reflection in the mirror over the fireplace. The man never met a mirror he didn’t love. “I still got it, right, mia polpetta?”
I laughed as he twirled me slowly beneath his arm. “You’ve still got it.”
He embraced me again, tighter this time. “I’ve still got you. That’s all that matters.”