The next morning, the surreal feeling returned. Was he actually sleeping in the spare room downstairs? What would we do that day? Would it be as magical during the day as it was that first night? I knew he would be fighting jet lag and have a funny sleep schedule so I went about my normal morning routine. When I was finally ready for the day, I knocked on his door to find that he was up. He opened his arms and I slipped into them as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Part of me still couldn’t believe that this was happening, or that he was there, but part of me felt so right about everything.
We spent that first day just getting used to being with each other. The plan was to do some sightseeing, but Mario’s jetlag slowed us down and by the time we were ready, DC (which was suffering from a massive heat wave) was hit by a freak summer storm, resulting in a massive power outing. Mario quickly learned why Americans are obsessed with air conditioning and why they like to put ice in their drinks. Not to be deterred, once the storm (complete with high winds and hail) abated, we set out in my car to find an area that had escaped the wrath of the storm so that we could go on our first real “date.”
Once the ice was broken, Mario and I feel into an easy routine. Since I had taken those first few days off completely from work, we were able to focus on each other, getting lost in our own little world where romance was slowly but surely blossoming. However, like all new couples, sooner or later we had to interact with the real world. The first big test would come on Sunday. Mario had wanted to meet my close friends and had insisted on cooking them a real Italian dinner – insalata italiana (Italian-style salad), homemade lasagna (his grandmother’s recipe) and his own version of the Italian dessert classic: tiramisu.
We spent a good portion of Saturday at the grocery store in order to find the precise ingredients (and where Mario stared, aghast, at the prices of items that the Italians use every day). Then Sunday, as soon as we came home from church, we were in the kitchen. Mario prided himself on his culinary skills and was determined that everything would be just right. As the (from scratch) sauce bubbled on the stove, the noodles cooked and the cream for the tiramisu whipped away in my Kitchenaid mixer, Mario regaled my roommates (whom he had pressed into service) and I with stories from his grandmother’s kitchen in Sicily. The hours flew by and before we were quite ready, my friends were at the door, eager to meet the man I’d been telling them about for so many months.
While I was, of course, very curious to hear my friends’ opinion about Mario, I remained understandably nervous about how the night would go. Especially in the communication department. Mario was very much a beginner when it came to English. Though he knew the basics, and could make a limited amount of conversation (as long as you spoke extremely slow), I knew that the group dynamic was going to make things difficult. Would my friends shy away from speaking with him? Would Mario feel left out and frustrated? Would the whole night be a disaster?
My fears were quickly shoved aside. Mario, a natural people person, was quick to endear himself to all my friends. With me in the middle as a translator, he pulled out all the stops to charm every person who walked into the house. While my friends (especially the girls) gaped at the man who had so easily situated himself by my side, Mario sealed a solid first impression by putting one of the most beautiful, aromatic lasagnas you could imagine on the table.
My friends were sold.
The evening quickly passed. As my friends swooned over the food, Mario supported me completely in my hosting role, helping where he could and setting out to entertain everyone around the table. Questions were asked, stories were told and laughter ruled – he even pulled out a few of his amateur magic tricks. We naturally worked together, balancing each other’s roles, and finding ways to overcome the language barrier that should have been a major obstacle to the evening’s success. By the end of the night, my friends left satisfied – in the stomachs, their hearts and their minds. More than one pulled me aside to let me know that they were keeping their fingers crossed that things would continue to work out between us – and that we could cook many more meals in the future.