And then he sniffed the air. "What are you making?" he asked.

"Soup," I said.

"Huh," he said, a scowl creeping across his face. "What kind?"

"Vegetable?" I said, starting to feel the evening sinking away. "It's good. Really. You'll like it."

"Uh, okay," he said. He ate the soup quickly and did not have seconds. Our conversation was terse and awkward. He left shortly after dinner. A few days later, he called and left a message on my answering machine. "Look," he said, "I like you and everything, I do. But I think you're more serious about me than I am about you. I mean, I'm not ready to get into a committed relationship just yet, and, um, so, well...thanks for everything! Oh, yeah, and thanks for dinner the other night. See you around."

For a moment, I debated calling him back and shouting: "It was just soup ! It didn't mean anything!" But I was too irritated to bother. Besides, it did mean something. Food always does. In this case, it meant (to him, anyway) that I was auditioning for the role of Mom. He wasn't interested.

Fortunately, I began to wise up. For one thing, I got to know my neighbors Julie and Kevin. Julie was achingly beautiful, and Kevin was the lead singer in a rock 'n' roll band. One afternoon, I stopped by their apartment on my way home from work and found Julie standing over her stove, cooking something that smelled better than anything I'd ever smelled before. She told me it was Bolognese sauce , and that she made it only once a year, for Kevin's birthday. "It takes a whole day to cook," she said. "He gets it only on special occasions."

Just then Kevin burst through the door looking ravenous, eyeing the sauce, eyeing Julie. I quickly excused myself, but not before coming to two important conclusions: one, that I would learn to make Bolognese sauce, and two, that I would find a man worth cooking it for, preferably in that order.

And, lo and behold, I did. Peter and I were barely an hour into our first date when I realized that he might warrant a day at the stove. But there was no hurry. No, I was going to wait, take it easy, order takeout. In fact, the first home-cooked meal we ate was made not by me but by him, on the tiny stove in his 400-square-foot apartment.

Still I bided my time. We ate bread and cheese and apricots in bed in the middle of the night. We ate eggs in the morning, or toast with butter and honey. Summer turned to fall and the weather grew cool. At last, one bright morning I took down my cutting board and began to cut some onions. I chopped two carrots in tiny pieces, and two stalks of celery just the same. I put them in my heavy, red Dutch oven and lit the stove. The Bolognese was underway. All day it simmered, filling the apartment with its warm, rich aroma. At 7 o'clock, Peter whistled up to me from the park across the street. I waved to him out my kitchen window.

"Wow," he said, coming through the door a minute later. "It smells amazing in here. What's for dinner?"

I shrugged. "Pasta," I said casually. He looked at me sideways, as if to say, "Hey, wait a minute—pasta never smelled like this back on my planet." I just smiled mysteriously, set the table, tossed the salad. And then we sat down to the dinner that I had made just for him—just for us—and I don't remember a single bite of it. I am certain, however, that it was delicious. Of course it was. We had fallen in love.


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