Your money's no good here...

Rather ironic, the rain returning. Just what I needed; an excuse to settle in and write, with cats and spouse tucked into bed earlier than usual, and a movie whose finishing hinges upon the return of my normal attention span.

It crept up, slow and steady, as the day went by. Any southerner knows it—the traditionally blue sky dulled to a white haze by the low-lying clouds. The heat of the day triggers these storms; they come in late afternoon and early evening. If they clear before sundown, the result is a soupy, humid mire; if the storms continue past sundown, some actual cooling-off takes place.

Running errands at two p.m. in the atmospheric soup left me breathless and sweaty. I went home, changed clothing per Kat's instructions, and met up for the casual Wednesday night dinner at the wondergeeks' apartment.

Which, to my almost-total surprise, turned out to be neither casual nor at the wondergeeks.

We were booted out to Pauli's. Apparently not celebrating a wedding anniversary tends to prod friends into making such arrangements. We bought a bottle of wine from the restaurant shop, to thank our friends for dinner, and then settled into a quiet back corner of the restaurant to eat our way through the early evening.

Lovely, it was. Jeff, garlic and onion soup for an appetizer; myself, Scottish salmon mousse with boursin cheese on toast points with crême fraiche and caviar. Salads for both of us: the best spinach-greens salad I've ever eaten, dressed with a warm apple-and-smoked-bacon vinagrette and topped with cooked, minced egg. For the main section, Jeff had beef tips served with a sour cream-thickened pan sauce over penne. (It reminded one of beef stroganoff, but was subtly different.) I had bouillabaise; my love for any and all seafood is a well-documented one.

As the courses come and go, the storms come. The lights blink, and the muzak twitches, but all continues normally. As the door opens and closes I can see the crowns of splashing raindrops crashing down on the grey car nearest the door. Lightning flashes, and the meal continues.

We eat, we talk, we smile. I sit quietly and think of previous anniversaries that we've spent in this restaurant, celebrating the passage of time and life. We are not the same people we were when we married, but that is probably to the benefit of our relationship. He is looser, more relaxed, more social—albeit still a bit of a recluse, like me. The passage of time is taking the bite out of my words and my temper.

I look across the table and realize that I still love him, and it comes not as a surprise, but as a quiet satisfaction between the salad course and the main course. I sometimes miss the painful, blissful ache of first love—the heightened sensations, the rush and the joy—but in its stead has come something quieter, calmer.

I've stopped chirping, "Wow! He's in my life!" Instead, I've noticed myself whispering, "Of course he's here."

The server took our emptied entrée plates away and offered us dessert. A quick, competent description of the dessert offerings told me two things: one, that the desserts were fabulous, and two, that I simply didn't have any room left to ingest even part of one of them. We refused dessert, and he laughed and said:

"You should try what my wife and I try. When we go out to eat, we eat our dessert first. We're grown; we're adults—we can eat dessert before supper if we want." Laughing, I said to Jeff—"We should try that sometime."

The server returned a few minutes later, smiling widely. "I have been told that your money's no good here." He laughed, and looked back and forth at the two of us. "Looks like someone's taken care of your bill for you. Are you celebrating something?"

"Our friends sent us here," I explained. "We're celebrating our anniversary."

He congratulated us, and asked us how many years we'd been married. Three, I responded, and then I asked, "How long have you and your wife been married?"

"Less than a year," he said.

"It gets better after the first anniversary," I said with a laugh. "I promise. You get past all of the learning-to-live-with-each-other stuff."

He laughed, and wished us a good evening and a happy anniversary.

We left him a generous tip, and walked outside. The rain had come and gone—for the moment, anyway—and steam was starting to rise from the asphalt.

"Let's go," Jeff said. "Before it starts raining again."