We are different. That’s why it comes to this, a homemade ravioli dinner, a culinary resuscitation of our relationship. It’s an effort to prove to her that my love is so great I will create a romantic dinner just for her. I will learn how to cook ravioli. I will purchase a ravioli-making machine.
Even though I’m only sixteen, I know how fragile each moment with my girlfriend is – people around us break up and get together all the time. But we are different. So I carve a space out of the crowded basement in my house. Create romance in a place full of old toys, photo albums and tax forms. Throw blankets over the boxes, hang Christmas lights to look like stars or candlelight. With all three of the hanging light bulbs in the basement turned off, the place looks like an unfinished movie set. A broken card table rests on a box in the middle of the floor with an old sheet over it. Two cheap plastic chairs sit on opposite sides of the table. It’s obviously makeshift. A little crooked, but it will do.
I imagine her sitting across from me at that table, smiling gently in the Christmas lights in May. The lighter parts of her blonde hair will capture the red and the green of the lights as they flicker on and off. I picture her in a dress – a little black one or a long white one, with thin straps. Something simple, elegant, sexy.
And then there will be me, offering her wine, wearing a suit, smiling all the while because that is what a person does when he is in love and he has cooked a special homemade dinner for the love of his life.
But all the ricotta cheese and pasta dough can’t stop the inevitable realization that we are not so different after all. There is a question that lovers always seem to ask near the end. Four words of desperation, of longing, of nostalgia for the beginning of the relationship. The words can come during a fight or a pause, or even a hockey game.
She asks the question before I can.
We’re lying in bed after dinner, in silence, our breaths gently synchronized in the way that lovers’ breaths can be.
“What are you thinking?”
I’m thinking of a girl named Amy and something she had said at a carnival two weeks before. The two of us were talking about love and soul mates. She was pretty; I was attracted to her. The conversation was full of guilt. At one point, she leaned in and whispered in my ear that she liked me.
But she also said that my girlfriend and I were like a fairytale couple, the kind reserved for Disney movies and wedding cakes. And that’s what I’m thinking about, not the smell of lilacs in Amy’s hair, or her hot breath on my neck.
I tell my girlfriend the fairytale couple thing in the flashing Christmas lights. I tell it to her because I don’t want to keep fighting. I want to hold onto homemade dinners, to romance, to her. I tell her because I think, deep down, we both want so much to believe this isn’t just another high school romance. We want a fairy tale.
In the interest of honesty, I also mention that I think Amy likes me. But my girlfriend shouldn’t be worried.
Her body becomes stiff.
I tell her that what I mean is that even if Amy likes me it doesn’t matter, because I’m in a relationship I love. I say I didn’t mean to offend and I’m trying to be honest. I say maybe in some alternate universe, Amy and I could get along, maybe, but not in this one, of course, because in this one I’m in love and in this one Amy isn’t even on the radar. I say, what I mean is, I feel like we are a fairytale couple. My girlfriend and I, I mean, not me and Amy, of course, obviously. But Amy believes in us and I just think my girlfriend might perhaps maybe like to know that someone else out there in the world thinks we are perfect for each other.
She’s still silent.
I mean, if we’re being honest, yes, I guess I do find Amy attractive, but it doesn’t really matter, does it? I learned how to make ravioli and I created this whole dinner. I believe in us.
My girlfriend doesn’t say it shouldn’t take another woman’s interest in our relationship for me to feel that what we have is special. But she doesn’t need to, because now she’s taking the ring off her finger, the one I bought for her.
When I gave it to her, she asked how I knew the size of her fingers. I knew it because I knew it. The same way I knew her favorite color was blue, her favorite food baked pierogi with mushrooms and onions. The same way I knew that she drew black, often asymmetrical boxes in the margins of her notebook when she was bored or that sometimes she pressed the keys on the out of tune keyboard in her basement, even though she’d never learned how to play, making goofy little songs never to be repeated.
But before I could tell her any of that, or even respond, she said it must’ve been fate that I bought this ring, because it fit perfectly on her finger, like a glass slipper.
Now she puts on her shoes, sets the ring on the floor. She leaves it there, stares at me.
I say that if this is a fairytale then clearly this is the part where there’s a terrible mistake, like when Hansel and Gretel didn’t realize their breadcrumbs would be eaten by birds. This is just a misunderstanding, honestly. I say I think she’s the most beautiful girl in the known universe – in all universes, even the alternate ones.
Finally she pulls it from me, the four-word admission that truly marks this as the end, even if we both can’t acknowledge it yet. Because I know what she’s thinking, I know that this fight is the final straw. The ravioli failed. I know she is on her way out the door. And when this story is told it will be told with menace – what an asshole I am, talking about another girl in bed so soon after sex.
But I ask her what she is thinking anyway, because I am desperate, naked and shaking. I am trying to change the course of events. I am hoping her answer will be different than what I know it will be.