Shoes for Champagne

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Maria Crawford is a journalist, columnist, poet, and blogger turned award-winning author. Since 2014, she has been crafting dark, thrilling, gritty novels that aim to challenge the status quo of romance. Outside of writing, Crawford enjoys creating amateur book trailers, learning the lyrics to as many songs as possible, and volunteering nightly with stray animals around her city of Dallas, Texas.
This story was contributed by Maria 

I felt a singular, growing bead of sweat, as the heat wafted toward my skin.

It lazily trailed along the corner of my right brow, threatening to spill down my face. I lifted my arm, trying to force its absorption into the fabric of my shirt. The shirt needed to be washed soon anyway.

Bubbling away in the skillet before me were all of the components of Evelyn's favorite meal. Just a few hours earlier, I had braved the stressful madness of the nearest supermarket. There, I had selected the freshest looking ingredients that were required to pull it all together. Once back at home, I could actually begin to appreciate the melding aromas of sugar snap peas, julienned carrots, sliced bell pepper, and minced garlic.

I had never actually cooked with toasted sesame oil before, but the chicken seemed to be coming along nicely, too. She would've been pleased. At once, I lamented the fact that I had never really cooked much for her before. The endless scurrying of daily life had robbed me of a lot of time. While standing over the stove then, trying to emulate the way she would've made this sesame chicken with rice, I gained a brand new appreciation for Evelyn.

Not that I had ever lacked appreciation for her before, but still...

Dinner alone often required a lot of forethought and imagination. Determination, even. And my wife was the epitome of a determined woman. I'd always adored her for it.

Unperturbed by my generally nervous nature, she had been the one to ask me out for our first date, in 1975. It felt impossibly long ago, and yet just like yesterday, all the same. We got hot dogs and went roller skating. I proceeded to fall flat on my butt three times that night, leaving invisible bruises for the morning. The cadence of her uncontrollable laughter made the falls not hurt as much.

Evelyn, my darling. She was the most benevolent person I'd ever known, and she was incapable of ignoring the suffering of those around her. As a natural response, she loved animals.

We had welcomed many homeless pets into our home over the years—the last surviving of which, was the orange tabby cat who was currently rubbing on my leg and begging for dinner. Not her own dinner, mind you—which I'd already supplied for her—but the dinner I was making for Evelyn and myself.

The feline had a fluffy tail that was disproportionately short in relation to the rest of her, and sad-shaped eyes to contrast her perpetually peppy personality. As she stared up at me—and at the old, slotted spatula in my hand—she let out a pathetic meow.

I sighed, smiling.

"Not now, Cheez-It," I said to the fluffy creature who was licking her lips in anticipation of chicken. "I'm doing something for Mom."

As if she understood exactly what I meant, the cat slowly retreated to the living room, finding her favorite sleeping spot—the indented place on the old sofa where Evelyn liked to sit. After a few belly licks, Cheez-It was back to snoring, leaving me to my tasks.

Where were we? Ah, yes, Evelyn loved animals. She also adored children—the many dozens she had taught, as an English teacher at Howell High, and especially the two we had made on our own.

Leo and Lily were both away, studying computer science and music theory at their respective universities. Don't let their common birthday, or the alliteration of their first names, fool you. Twins couldn't have possibly behaved any differently than these two kids did. When they lived at home, Leo and Lily did little but argue.

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