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A thousand dollars! That was all I had to my name–one thousand dollars and the love of a good man. Looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Three years ago I met this wonderful man at Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts where I was training as a chef. Adam was also training to be a chef. It was his ambition to open his own restaurant. Adam Johnson was an English student from Oxford. His sister, Louise, lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her husband, Donald, was deputy mayor. When she found out that Adam wanted to apply at the Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh, she paid for his airline tickets and insisted he stay at her place for the duration of his studies.
Gradually we became friends, studying together; cooking together and when Adam finally had the courage to ask me out on a proper date, my heart melted like chocolate. He proposed to me a year later. We married in a small chapel near his sister’s house surrounded by family and friends. That summer we graduated from the Cordon Bleu Institute. We had visions of opening our own Italian restaurant together in Pittsburgh. We were about to start the process when we got a call that would change everything.
Adam was devastated when he learned the news. His father, Arthur, was diagnosed with a brain tumour. The doctors had given him a year to live. He wanted to see his sons, Adam and Adrian and his three daughters before he died. The months that followed flew by. We were all busy organizing the journey to Oxford. My parents couldn’t believe it. How could their little girl leave them to travel over two thousand miles away? Being brought up in Palermo, they were strict Italians. They were opposed to the idea of their new son-in-law taking their precious daughter away from them. In the three months before our journey, my parents gave us the cold shoulder. It got so uncomfortably cold in their presence, that we just didn’t know what to say or do. Saying goodbye to them was the hardest thing I had ever done.
“You’re going to regret this move!” my mother told me.
“You will starve in Oxford.” Mamma went on, “You have no job. You’re fresh out of college. You have no money. We’re still paying for your student loan and your Wedding, you wretched, ungrateful child! You have no prospects. You will become nothing! Don’t come back crawling to us when you’ve failed.”
How could my parents be so heartless? Didn’t they know that my father-in-law was gravely ill? Couldn’t they see that this trip was the last wish of a dying man?
The day that we left it felt so awkward. We said goodbye to my sister, Sabrina. She had tears in her eyes. I could not even look into Mamma’s eyes. My father hugged me and then my mother ran up to me as we opened the door. She flung her hands upon my shoulders.
“Goodbye, Bambina...Go with God. I’m sorry for what I said. I was wrong. I just couldn’t bear the thought of you living so very far away from us. Go...Make us proud. You know this is always your home if all things fail.” That was the last thing I heard her say.
We landed at Heathrow Airport on a Saturday morning. It was a warm April morning, as I recalled. I was astonished by the sights and sounds of London. On the National Express Bus, on our way to Oxford, I kept looking at all the monuments and buildings, mesmerized by their majestic size. It was nightfall when we got to town. Adam’s father lived in a two-storey Victorian house in a little town near Marston at 22 Spaghetti Junction. The house was named Spaghetti Junction because it was positioned in the middle where Spaghetti Junction and Sparrow’s Meadow met. The bus screeched down the main street near the Block Buster Video Store. We got off the bus and the driver opened the luggage compartment, handing us our luggage. It was nearly ten O’clock when we approached the house.
“Welcome home, you two!” I heard Arthur say as we rang the bell. My father-in-law hugged us both and welcomed us into his home.
“You guys must be tired. Come on in. I’ll show you to your room in a minute.” Arthur looked pale and weak but his spirit was rich and still jolly as ever. We walked through a long corridor. A large grandfather clock stroked eleven as we walked past it. We were led into a double sized room with a double four-poster bed with pretty, ornate rose-printed curtains. The walls were decorated with a pink rose- printed wall paper which matched the curtains and bedclothes. To the left of the bed was an oak wardrobe, elaborately decked with wooden cherubs and roses. A matching bureau with its own looking glass came to view. On its surface lay a silver vanity set
“What do you think, Rose?” asked Arthur. I was speechless, overwhelmed by everything.
“It’s lovely, Arthur.” I said, “Thank you!”
“You’re very welcome.” my father-in-law said. “I will make both of you some tea.” He closed the door and headed towards the kitchen before we could protest.
“It’s a lovely room, Darling.” I told my husband. Adam was changing into a night shirt as he yawned in agreement.
I was about to change into my bed clothes, too, when I turned around and saw the most breath-taking site of all. I parted the curtains to have a look. The window in our room opened to a balcony. Outside the balcony I saw a rose garden. Bushes of roses grew all along a stone wall. In the midst of the garden was a maze composed of manicured topiary. Down below the balcony, there was a fountain and in the midst of the fountain, an ivory angel looked down upon the water’s cascading flow. Just then I had a vision.
For a moment I saw a glimpse of a romantic restaurant with bistro-like tables draped in gingham tablecloths overlooking the terrace. I saw couples looking into each other’s eyes while holding hands while dining by candlelight. Adam joined me while I dreamed.
“What are you dreaming of, my Love?” he asked.
“I just had a vision—a lovely vision of our future restaurant.” I sighed. “Here in the garden, I saw visions of couples on Valentine’s Day dining by the moonlight on gingham clothed tables as we worked our magic in the kitchen.”
“Sounds wonderful, Love,” Adam said as he held me tight. .
We returned to reality at the sound of Arthur. He placed the tea tray on my bedside cabinet.
“Here’s your Tea, you two,” Arthur announced. “Have a nice evening. It’s getting late. I will see you two in the morning. I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow at noon. Will you drive me there, Adam?”
“Of course I will, father,” Adam said. “Goodnight, Dad. Sleep tight.”
“Goodnight, both of you. Sleep peacefully.” Arthur turned and closed the door. We sat at the edge of the bed sipping our tea thinking about our future.
“I’m afraid it’s worse than I thought!” said Dr Lobel. “The tumour has increased in size since the last Cat-scan.”
“What does that mean, Doctor?” Adam asked, worried.
“I’m afraid there’s nothing more than we can do, sir.” Dr Lobel added.
“What do you mean, there’s nothing you can do? Of course there is. What are you guys paid for? You’re paid to do research and find solutions! Don’t give me this crap!” Adam was getting agitated.
“Now, Mr Johnson...I know how upset you are. But the crux of the matter is that your father’s tumour is growing fast and soon it will burst. I’m sorry; Mr, Johnson... I give your father a few months.”
Adam sank in his chair with his face buried in his hands. He was told his father had a year. Now the doctors were telling him he had a few months to live. This was just so unfair.
“Does my father know how much time he’s got left?” Adam asked the doctor. Doctor Lobel shook his head.
“He just knows he is gravely sick.”
“Do me a favour, doctor,” Adam pleaded, “Don’t tell him anything. I want to make his last days on earth as comfortable as I can.”
“I understand.” said Doctor Lobel.
“I want my father to pass away quietly at home,” continued Adam, “No nurses, no doctors, just his family and friends.”
“Now, Mr Johnson, please...” began Doctor Lobel; but Adam wouldn’t let him finish his sentence.
Adam and I and his brother and sisters took turns caring for Arthur. Adam and I catered to his wishes and cooked him delicious meals. Arthur loved my spaghetti Bolognese and Adam’s chocolate soufflés. He adored my beef bourguignon and Adam’s black forest cake.
Arthur passed away on a warm June afternoon. Father Magarey gave a lovely sermon. There was a gathering of mourners who paid their last respects at the house. Adam and I prepared a sombre buffet to feed the mourners. We all sat in the garden remembering Arthur. Now and again I looked about and as my head turned towards the fountain I swear I could see the angel shed a tear. Shaking my head, I turned towards my husband. Silly me, I thought. How can stony angels cry?
Four months passed so quickly. It was autumn now. Arthur’s solicitor summoned us for a reading of Arthur’s last will and testament. It was chilly sitting there in the room. We all sat around in black on black leather chairs as the barrister read the Arthur’s Last Will and Testament in a monotonous tone.
“To my son, Adrian I leave my beloved books. Being a bookworm he will enjoy them. I also bequeath to him the sum of £25,000” The barrister read. Adrian looked amongst his brother and sisters and then to the Barrister before looking down upon the floor.
The barrister cleared his throat before proceeding.
"To my other son, Adam, I leave Spaghetti Junction, its halls and gardens as well as the sum of £50,000.” Adam looked around to his sisters and Adrian, shell-shocked at his inheritance. A gasp echoed through the room.
“I don’t deserve it,” Adam said. “I don’t deserve it!” I clasped his shoulders tightly. The Barrister continued.
“To my daughters, Louise Anne Hartley and Eva Marie Johnson, I leave them a handsome sum of £25,000 each and their mother’s jewellery.” The barrister folded the Will and placed it back into its envelope. He took out a separate envelope and a large box. He handed the box to Adam. Adam looked confused.
“Adam, your father wrote this letter on the day of his passing. He wanted me to read it to you. The barrister unfolded the letter, written in a crème-coloured piece of stationery.
You, being my eldest son it is right to bequeath onto you my home, Spaghetti Junction. You and your wife were good to me these last few days, making my last days on earth an earthly paradise. As a parting gift, please accept this golden bowl. I had it engraved with your name on it the day you came back home. I enjoyed the meals you and your wife cooked for me on my last days on earth. It is my wish that you and your wife open your very own restaurant, for it is obvious that you both have a talent.
Arthur Brian Johnson
The garden was aglow with candles as hungry couples waited for their meals A lady swooned as her boyfriend popped the question as the sounds of violins serenaded the guests. Adam and I were busy in the kitchen preparing sauces and fulfilling orders as Eva Marie, our Maître D, welcomed in new customers. Adam and I opened Arthur’s, a family run Bistro at 22 Spaghetti Junction which reeked in steady revenue. Every Saturday the place was jam-packed with couples waltzing in for romantic dinners. As I looked back I reflected upon this past year. It’s been a year of sacrifice; of sadness and loss; but also it has led us to a new beginning...a whole new chapter in our lives. Adam and I are happy. We have fulfilled our dream of opening a restaurant. I invited my parents to come. They celebrated their twenty-fifth Wedding Anniversary with a romantic meal at Arthur’s. Mamma looked at us with pride. There were tears in her eyes. “You’ve done well, Bambina,” she said, “Your Papa and I are so very proud of you.” I took a handkerchief to wipe my eyes. The violinist was playing That’s Amore. Looking up, I saw an angel smile.