The old man in the tattered driving cap opened the door to his warm, comfortable little house and walked inside, placing his briefcase beside the door for the very last time and pulling the scarf from around his neck. The radio was playing a lively waltz. The wonderful smell of fresh-baked cookies filled the air and he smiled, picturing his wifeby the oven, wearing an apron sprinkled with flour, her half-moon spectacles balanced firmly on her nose, her bright cheeks flushed with accomplishment, a smile spread across her face as wide and warm and inviting as the summer sun. He paused, listening for the sound of her muffled footsteps. There. She was in the kitchen, of course. By the oven. He could see in his mind's eye the metal sheet filled with cookies as she laid it carefully on the cooling trays, her hands encased in green oven mitts, her nostrils flaring as she bent down and tested the quality of her work with a practiced sniff.
"Welcome home!" she called out.
"It's good to be home," he answered. And it was. He pulled off his coat as he walked to the closet and opened the door. There were very few coats left in the closet, not nearly as many as there once had been. Plenty of hangers from which to choose. He picked one randomly and placed it inside his coat, then hung it back up near the center, slightly to the right. Next to hers. They looked so small in that huge empty space. Lots of room.
He closed the closet door and walked into the kitchen. She met him there and they wrapped their arms around each other, kissing one another affectionately - twice - and then stood still for a moment, feeling the warmth passing between them.
She giggled. "You must really like that hat," she said mischievously. "What?" He reached up and touched his head. Yes, his hat was still on his head. He grinned and pulled it off, tossing it carelessly onto the kitchen table. "I do," he said. "But I suppose I won't need it for a while."
"No," she said, released him from her arms and stepping back to look at him. "But you will need to wash that sweater now. It's got flour all over it."
He looked down. His blue sweater was lightly dusted with with snowy whiteness. "Oh, well," he said. "Not the first time."
She turned around so that her back was to him, and he untied the apron strings, leaning forward so that his nose was just above her hair. He breathed deeply. "Thanks." "My pleasure," he said, and meant it. She slipped the apron over her head and draped it across the back of a kitchen chair, then walked over to the couch and sat down with a sigh. "Busy day?"
"Quite," he said, remembering it. He walked over to the counter and looked down at the red-and-white cookies on the trays. "Lots of paperwork to do. Forms to fill out. Final instructions for the team. That sort of thing." He touched one of the cookies, felt its softness, its warmth. Ten more minutes, he thought. And a glass of ice-cold milk to go with it.
"Lunch was good, though," he said, turning back to her. "Nearly everyone was there. Some folks I hadn't seen for a long time. From over at the old office. Nice to see them again. Hard to believe it's been so many years now. So many gray hairs now. Some all white. Quite a few coming up for retirement soon."
He walked over to his comfy chair which faced the couch and sat down, then sighed, an echo of hers. "Strange. To be done with all that."
"Now you'll finally have time for all those things you've been wanting to do for so long." She looked at him with that smile, that wonderful smile. So many possibilities, so many good times ahead. He had dreamed of this moment for so many years, this moment when all those possibilities lay ahead of them, with all the time in the world to take advantage of them. He hoped there was time.
"Yes," he said, "and we'll be able to do some traveling now, like our parents did. Go see the kids. Spend time with the grandkids. See a bit of the world."
"Yes," she agreed. "But not just yet."
"No," he said. "Not just yet."
They sat for a moment in silence, looking at each other. He let his mind drift aimlessly, feeling in his mind the curve of her face, the tilt of her smile, the depth of her deep brown eyes. He could lose himself in that face. He could still remember her face from long ago, the young girl who had captured his heart with her smile, the playful brilliance of her eyes, her humorous wit, her raw energy for living. That face was still there, changed somewhat by time, improved by a dignity and grace of a life well lived, of many hard lessons learned, but with an energy undimmed by the years.
She laughed suddenly. "What are you grinning about?" she asked with a flush in her cheek.
"You're beautiful," he said in a reverent tone.
"That's why you married me," she said, teasing.
"Among other reasons."
"Your amazing ability to turn ordinary food into gourmet dishes. Your financial wizardry. Your knowledge of Classic Literature. Your grasp of world politics. Your amazing skills with needle and thread. Your appreciation for good music. The way your fingers dance over a piano keyboard. Your infatuation with Jane Austen novels. Your devotion to Biblical studies. There are oh, so many reasons. How could I possibly name them all?"
She laughed again. "Well, you've certainly given it a good start. How can I possibly thank you enough for those kind words?"
"Oh!" He sat up straight and patted his pockets as if looking for something. "I know just the thing."
Her brow furrowed. "What now?"
He patted his chest. "I know they were here somewhere..."
"What are you talking about?"
He reached inside his sweater to his shirt pocket. "Oh, here they are!" He pulled out a small envelope and held it up. Her eyes widened ever so slightly.
"Symphony tickets," he said. "Tonight. Eight o'clock. Would you care to accompany me, my dear? They're playing out song." He stood up and handed her the envelope. She took it and pulled the flap open and looked at the contents. Two symphony tickets. She read the name of the selections. Then looked up at him, her eyes twinkling.
"I would be most pleased to accompany you," she said in her best Jane Austen voice. "And what will we be celebrating this fine evening? Your retirement?"
He shook his head. "The beginning of the rest of our lives," he said, taking her by the hand and pulling her close once more. "May it be long and glorious."
"Silly old man," she whispered in his ear as they began to dance to the elegant music which filled the room.