“Fuck! FUCK! Shit! SHIT! SHIT! OUCH! Fucking hell!”
“Oh, boy! Wait until I tell Mom what you said!”
My ten year-old son, Marco, is staring at me with his hands folded across his chest and an enormous shit-eating grin on his face.
He was supposed to be anywhere but here, and I throw him an irritated look, waving my hands through the air, trying to clear the smoke. Marco opens the backdoor as I walk around the kitchen opening all the windows and then staring at the heap of burned ash that I’ve just tossed into the sink.
The defeated, shrunken carcass of what was once roast pork is still smoking slightly.
“Goddamn it all to Hell!”
“Forty dollars!” yells Marco from the backyard.
Why the hell didn’t anyone tell me that cooking was this hard? Caro always makes it look easy. Turns out it’s not as simple as it seems.
All I wanted to do was treat my wife to a homemade dinner on Christmas Eve. It was a good idea at the time, but now I’m thinking that I should have just gotten us a table at her favorite Italian restaurant. Yeah, okay, I did try that, but when you call the day before for a reservation on one of the busiest days of the year, it would take an act of God for there to be a table available.
Signor Aconi was heartbroken—he loves Caro almost as much as I do.
Marco walks back into the kitchen, pretending to choke on the non-existent smoke. He peers at the pork as if it’s a science experiment gone wrong. Which it kinda is.
“Mom won’t eat that. Your cooking really sucks, Dad.”
I sigh, staring at the charred mass.
I can strip an M-16 in under a minute, taking it down to the skinny (barrel, mag, trigger and butt), and reassemble faster. I can run a mile in six minutes, which isn’t bad considering my right leg has lost thirty per cent of the muscle mass, courtesy of a suicide-bomber in Afghanistan. I’m fluent in Pashto, Dari, Arabic and Italian, and I can get by in French and Italian, maybe even Spanish. I’m good at a lot of shit that’s pretty damn useless living in Long Island, New York. But can I make a roast dinner for my wife? No, I fucking can’t.
And that pisses me off.
It looks like I’m going to be that guy … the poor pathetic sap who has to order takeout for Christmas Eve dinner. I don’t know if Caro will laugh or cry. Obviously, I’m hoping for the former. I’d rather she laughed her ass off at me—anything rather than see tears in her beautiful brown eyes. I don’t want to disappoint her. I love her beyond anything in this world or the next. She gave me back my life when I was just a shell of a person. I’ve always loved her.
But that doesn’t solve my problem: I can’t fucking cook.
Luckily, my troops can.
“Where are your sisters?” I ask, trying to act casual.
Marco’s eyes narrow.
“You said that you were cooking for Mom, and that you didn’t need a bunch of kids getting underfoot.”
Shit! I did say that.
“Well, I think it would be fun if we all helped, don’t you? Go find your sisters.”
“You owe forty dollars,” he says, sticking out his lower lip.
“No freakin’ way! It can’t possibly be that much!”
“I was counting, Dad. And you said…”
“Don’t repeat it!” I yell, running my hands over my head in frustration. “Fine, go get the jar.”
He grins, his blue eyes shining up at me. Kid’s getting tall. Caro says he’s going to be just like me. Let’s hope he’s got his mom’s smarts.
“Forty dollars!” he says, holding out the glass jar that’s labelled Daddy’s Swear Jar. It’s already got close to $300 in it. I really try not to swear around my babies, but ten years in the Marines is a habit that’s hard to beat.
I take out my wallet and stuff $40 in the jar, sighing heavily. Marco screws on the lid tightly and puts it back on the counter.
“I’ll get Sofia,” he says, running up the stairs yelling her name.
Sofia is our adopted daughter. She was born in a tiny, nameless village in the mountains of Afghanistan, but now she’s a beautiful American girl, nearly 13 years-old. I speak her parents’ language with her every day, and it helps keep my Dari fluent, as well as connecting her with her heritage.
She’s so like Caro—long, dark hair and big soulful eyes. All the women in my life are beautiful: Caro, Sofia and Shirley, the baby of the family at six years old—six going on sixteen.
Sofia is smiling when she walks in the kitchen.
“Smells kind of smoky, Dad.”
“I know,” I sigh. “Any ideas?”
“Mommy loves pizza,” Shirley says encouragingly, as she scoots down the stairs and runs up to me for a hug.
“I know someone who loves pizza, but I don’t think it’s Mommy,” I point out, keeping my face serious.
“Everyone loves pizza,” says Shirley, pouting just a little now.
She’s fucking adorable, and the spitting image of her mother.
“Mom’s favorite is Fettucine Alfredo,” Sofia says knowingly.
I frown, not convinced.
“Yeah? Which one’s that?”
“Pasta with cheese sauce, Dad!” shouts Marco from the back garden. “Everyone knows that.”
“Okay, shopping trip, troops.”
“We gotta get candy for Mommy!” Shirley reminds me. “And flowers!”
What would I do without my kids? They’re fucking awesome.
Sixty minutes later, I’ve survived the supermarket, and Sofia is showing me how to make the sauce for the pasta.
“So there’s no meat in it?” I ask, disappointed.
“It’s Alfredo, Dad!”
Like that’s supposed to mean something to me?
Sofia drills it into me how long I have to cook the fettucine for, then takes the kids off to their Uncle Atash for the evening.
By the time Caro walks in the door an hour later, looking beat from her last-minute Christmas shopping trip, everything is perfect.
Candles lit. Check.
Table set with silverware. Check.
White tulips in a vase. Check.
Candy wrapped in pink fucking paper. Check
Most beautiful fucking woman in the world walking into my arms. Check and check.
Her eyes light up as she sees the table, the exhaustion fading away.
“Sebastian! This is amazing! Did you do this all by yourself?”
“Sure did, baby. Do you like it?”
“I love it! It smells great. Sofia is becoming quite a little chef.”
“Yep. I totally made this by myself, but I let the kids help.”
She smiles, her eyes crinkling as she wraps her arms around my neck, kissing my lips softly.
I want more. I always want more with her. And for a moment, the world floats away as the love of my life is pressed against my body, a promise and a longing in the way her fingers stroke under my t-shirt, skin to skin.
“I love you, Sebastian,” she breathes against my neck. “Sempre e per sempre.”
And I have to swallow the lump in my throat, because I have no idea how I got to be so fucking lucky.
“Love you, too, Caro. Always have, always will. Merry Christmas, baby.”