You fixed my favorite meal. I guess that was the first sign I had that you were special. I was an English major with a minor in teaching. You were already a successful chef at a local restaurant. Then out of the blue, one day, you invited me to your place for a private dinner, just you and me, and what did you fix? Biscuits and country sausage gravy with green beans on the side and lemon meringue pie for dessert.
“This is my favorite,” I exclaimed.
“Yup,” you nodded, smiling back.
“How’d you know, Doug?” I asked, curious.
There was a pause as you set your own plate on the table. Then you shrugged. “It’s your birthday,” you offered, like that explained everything.
“Did you talk to my mother?” I probed.
You simply shook your head, grinning.
“I don’t believe it,” I replied, staring at the steaming food that was becoming increasingly difficult to resist. “You’ve barely known me six months.” Finally, I surrendered, picked up a fork and took a bite of the biscuits, which were smothered in delicious smelling white gravy with chunks of sausage in it. The biscuits were the lightest and most fluffy of any I’ve ever tasted. The gravy was silky smooth, just thick enough without being clumpy and had just the perfect amount of salt and some other spices that I couldn’t identify, not being a chef.
I tried the beans. They must have been fresh when they were cooked because they didn’t taste anything like the beans I’m used to eating from a can. They were warm and just salty enough that the flavor of the beans was perfectly enhanced, but not mushy, like canned beans often are.
“This is heaven,” I exclaimed with my mouth full of beans.
You laughed. “Thank you,” you said, seating yourself at the table and beginning to eat your own meal.
“You talked with Maddy, didn’t you?” I guessed, licking gravy from my lips. You remember Madeline White. The girl who was my best friend in college?
You tilted your head to the left a little and shook it again, still smiling.
“And how did you know it’s my birthday?” I asked, taking another delicious bite of biscuits and gravy.
You shrugged again, smiling.
“Doug, you’re impossible,” I laughed, having some more beans. “Can’t you give me a hint?”
Laughing again, you shook your head. So I gave up for the moment and concentrated on my delicious dinner. Eventually, my plate was empty.
“Ready for pie?” you asked, all innocence.
“Sure,” I smiled, still puzzling in my head as you took my gravy-smeared plate away. How did Doug know lemon meringue pie was my favorite dessert?
As with the biscuits and the green beans, the pie was just perfect. The lemon curd tasted like authentic lemons, perfectly sweetened so that it was just the right shade of tart. The meringue was like eating creamy, sweetened air. I could have eaten that whole pie by myself and died a happy woman.
“Oh,” I exclaimed around my first bite of pie. “This is perfect. How do you do it?”
You shrugged that maddening shrug again. “Practice?” you suggested with another grin, touching a hand to the top of your head, where your chef’s hat would normally have been.
“Come on, Doug,” I said, finally setting my fork down on my empty pie plate. “Who told you this was my favorite meal? Who told you this was my birthday?”
“You did,” you said, still grinning that impish grin.
“I did?” I replied, shocked that I couldn’t remember ever discussing either subject with you.
“You talk in your sleep,” you said.
That’s when I remembered. I’d had an important exam and was up all the previous night reviewing for it. I came to your restaurant after the exam was over positively exhausted and fell asleep in one of the booths against the wall before a waiter could ask for my order. I’m not sure how long I slept but, when I woke up, the restaurant was closed and you were sitting in the booth, across the table from me, playing solitaire with a beat-up pack of cards.
“You talk in your sleep,” you’d informed me.
“What?” I’d responded blearily. You didn’t repeat yourself. You never did. “You’re nuts,” I grouched, sitting up. My shoulders, neck and hips ached horribly. “and your benches are hard.” I added peevishly. You simply smiled, passing me a free glass of lemon-lime soda and an equally free bowl of your luscious broccoli and cheese soup.
That was how you and I met. Remember? After that, we started seeing each other a lot more often. I remember I did most of the talking. You’ve always seemed to feel like every word cost something close to a hundred dollars, more in some cases, so that you had to use as few as humanly possible. I’ve always admired that about you. I could never do that, even now, as a high school English teacher. I still managed to learn a few things about you, all the same, but I never stopped to think that you might be a special kind of man until the day you fixed my favorite meal. Before that day, you weren’t much more than a good friend; someone I could come to if I needed a listening ear or a plate of good food.
Then, six months later, you fixed my favorite meal. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I guess the same can be said of women, or at least of me. The day you fixed my favorite meal was the day my understanding of you and my relationship with you changed.
So, in answer to your question: when did I know you were the man for me? That day when you fixed my favorite meal.