(The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores July 2019.)
The rich aroma from the mixture of tomatoes and onions cooking wafted through the air, hitting my nose with a distinct perfume. It was a soothing smell that blanketed me in its warm hold. If alone, I would have been content to stand in front of my stove all day.
I stirred the sauce and listened as my cousin Gino Mancusi flipped through the sports section of the newspaper at my breakfast counter and grumbled about his beloved Giants losing again.
"The season is pretty much over. I actually thought they might get another ring this time." He sighed and pushed the paper aside. "You shouldn't have gone to any trouble, Tessa. A sandwich would have been fine."
"It's never any trouble." I enjoyed watching others sample my creations and had vowed years ago that no one would ever leave my home hungry. Part of this obsession came from my love of cooking, but I attributed the rest to my Italian heritage. Italians are passionate about almost everything in the world, and food is at the top of the list.
"It's rare for you to go out for lunch," I said. Gino was a police detective in our hometown of Harvest Park. "Did Lucy tell you to come over and check up on me? Is it your day? Oh wait, let me grab the calendar."
"Stop being a smart aleck." He left the counter and came into the kitchen to grab ice cubes out of the freezer for his soda. On his way back, he stopped and planted an affectionate kiss on the top of my head."That's what family is for, Tess. We're all worried about you."
I squeezed his arm and turned off the burner. "Grab the parmesan cheese out of the fridge, will you? I grated it this morning."
Gino nodded without another word. I appreciated all that he and the rest of the family were doing, but I was determined not to start crying again today.
It was still difficult to talk about my husband's death, even with loved ones. I'd spent the last five weeks in a trance—or perhaps shock was a better term. Thanks to my mother, cousins, and my friend Justin, I had finally started to come around. Whenever I thought I'd fully recovered though, a kind word or a nice gesture from anyone would make me dissolve into a puddle of tears again.
Last night, my elderly neighbor Stacia from across the street had brought me a fresh baked apple pie. "I know how much you love them, dear." She'd beamed at me from underneath a mass of pink foam hair curlers. Apple pie—anything apple, actually—had been Dylan's favorite, but I didn't have the heart to tell her so. Instead, I'd cried after she left and then devoured a huge slice.
Gino placed the cheese on the breakfast counter. He had classic Italian good looks complemented by dark hair, an olive complexion, and brown eyes that could either be sympathetic or suspicious. I suspected that the latter one was a cop thing.
"Right here at the bar is fine, Tess," he said. "Don't bother setting the table. I have to get back to work in a little while anyway."
"Okay, it's all ready." I ladled the ruby-red sauce onto his plate of penne, inhaling the rich savory smell. It was a little bit like summer, with the sweet fragrance of vine-ripe tomatoes complemented by the minty smell of fresh basil from my garden.
"It smells great," Gino said as he sat down. "Then again, I've never eaten anything of yours that wasn't top notch. You need to give Lucy some pointers."
"Lucy's a good cook. She's too busy taking care of those devilish twins of yours to do much else. I've got a little bit of extra sauce if you want to take some home to her."
Gino's eyes widened as he swallowed a bite of pasta."A little? Come on, Tess. I saw your extra sauce." He wiped his mouth on a starched white linen napkin. "When I opened the freezer, there were at least twenty ziplock bags in there. Maybe you're a bit obsessed with making sauce, huh?"
Like the rest of my family, Gino's focus was strictly on how the food tasted. For me, there was more to it. I loved the aromas, the spices, the way preparing food made me feel—relaxed, confident, and in control. I'd been cooking for twenty years, since the tender age of ten. My grandmother, a fabulous cook herself, and I had shared a special bond. Whenever we went to her house, I'd head straight to the kitchen to watch her make dinner and we'd chat the afternoon away. My love of cooking came from her. On my thirteenth birthday, she gave me a special present—her secret tomato sauce recipe. She passed away when I was sixteen, and I took the recipe and made it my own over the years, with the help of a few special ingredients. Although I could make just about anything, tomato sauce was my passion and specialty, always bringing to mind wonderful memories of our time together.