Dahlia darling

When I was a little girl, I used to spend my afternoons in my grandma’s kitchen, nonna, as she wanted me to call her. Nonna means grandma in Italian. Watching nonna cooking was enchanting. 

Nonna was clumsy and she didn’t know how to interact with people, but when she was in her kitchen she was another person, moving like a ballerina, singing like a soprano.

“Dahlia darling, the food is magic. With food you can tell love, hate, happiness or sadness. You have to perfectly measure your herbs, your sugar, your sauce, to have the right recipe. You can read a recipe but then, before making it, you have to feel it and make it your own. No dish can be the same for two times. No two persons can taste a dish the same way.” she used to tell me in her still strong Italian accent.

“Nonna, why have you never opened a restaurant? Your cooking is fantastic!”, I teased her. I knew the answer but I love to hear her saying it.

“Never. Dahlia darling, did you ever see me in a restaurant? Cooking is passion, cooking is telling your feelings. Your nonna is clumsy, but here, in my kingdom, I am a different person. I could never cook for work. I need to feel the people I’m cooking for”, she promptly answered

“When you will be old enough, I will teach you and you will inherit my recipe book. But remember, you will have to put yourself in your recipe, you have to feel it, or let it go and try another one. You read the recipe, then close your eyes and imagine the people eating it. If you can see their face, then it’s the right recipe, if you can’t, try with another one.”

Nonna passed the day her doctor said: 

“Mrs. Panelli, you can’t walk and stand anymore. Your bones are too thin to hold your weight”, not that she was fat, not at all, she was soft, curvy, but she had weak bones. That day I was with her when the doctor diagnosed her illness. On the drive back home she was extremely quiet, I could see her cheeks wet with tears. My ballerina was dying. Without her, the kitchen would never be the same. 

Once we were home I helped her to the couch, gave her her knitting basket and I went to make some phone calls. My parents were living in California. When they had to move out there for my mother’s job, I asked to stay with nonna and take care of her. It was my decision, nobody forced me. Her kitchen has always been the only place I could feel safe. 

That afternoon, when I called mama to tell her the diagnosis, she was speechless. She knew the meaning of this diagnosis, it was a death sentence for nonna. We all knew.

When I went to see if she needed anything, she was staring at the emptiness. I had to make a few calls and find a caregiver.

“Dahlia darling, sit here,", she said, patting the cushion beside her “You know that if I can’t cook I can’t live. I can’t remember a day I didn’t cook, not even my wedding day!”, she continued. “Listen to me, you learned from me, you have the magic wand now. Cook for the love of cooking, cook for the people you love the most. Make love cooking. With the right dish you can even have an orgasm”

I choked when she said that. Nonna never mentioned making love and orgasm, with me at least.

“Oh, don’t be prude, Dahlia darling! Do you think that your mama was found under a kale? Do you think that, behind that door, your grandpa and I used to just sleep? It was my cooking that kept him strong and excited”

I was speechless. I was looking at her talking, unable to say a word. Who was this old lady before me?

“Now, promise me you will always follow these simple rules. Can you promise me?", she asked in a weak voice.

I nodded, then I found my voice somewhere and I answered “Yes nonna. But I still have so many things to learn. You still have to teach me”, fighting the tears back.

“Dahlia darling, you know everything. You are the only one. One day you’ll teach the magic to your children, promise?", she replied.

“Yes nonna.”

“Good girl. Now, can you please pour me a glass of cold water with a lemon wedge as I like, Dahlia darling?”, she asked, breathing heavily.

“Sure.", I said and I went to the kitchen. When I was back with her water, her head was bent down to her chest. I knew she was gone. That was the last time she called me Dahlia darling. She died at 82, on a day in March 2004.

The day of her funeral I turned 22 and I prepared the reception. I knew I couldn’t call a catering company, she would never forgive me.  I knew exactly what she would have liked: fingerfood. Oh she loved finger food for standing receptions.

During the reception I was talking with some of the guests. I knew everyone, and any of them had the amazing opportunity to eat at my nonna’s table. In the last 7 or so years, I was her sous chef. I had my own apron and my own cook hat.

“Mrs. Panelli?", a warm, deep male voice behind me formally called me.

“Uhm?", I said, turning toward the voice. “Oh, Mrs. Panelli was my non… ehm grandma. Please, I am Dahlia. Dahlia darling, as she used to call me. And who am I pleased to talk to? I don’t think I ever met you”, I asked him. He was taller than me, broad shoulders, dark hair, green eyes and a killer smile that made my knees weak. 

“My name is Attilio Giobetti", he said, holding out his hand. “My granddad was Filippo Giobetti", he continued.

“Oh, I remember Signor Filippo. He was a great friend of nonna. How many laughs together we had. He had so many funny stories to tell. I knew about a son who lived in Italy and some grandchildren. I didn’t know you were here.", I replied, shaking his hand.  

“Actually I am not. My friend Jovanni, the greengrocer on Pershing, called me with the news of your nonna's death. My granddad, before dying, made me promise I’d be here when this day would come to take care of you. And here I am. I keep my promises.", he replied, in a solemn voice.

“I am sorry for Signor Filippo. Nonna wanted to go to his funeral but she was too weak. I guess they are together now and laughing around a table, like they used to do here at that table.", I said, pointing to the dining table.

“I hope so.", he said. 

Then an awkward silence fell between us. He was staring into my eyes and I probably blushed.

“Ehm", he cleared his voice, coming back from his thoughts. “During my grandfather’s will reading, the notary gave me an envelope. It was a letter my grandfather wrote telling me things I didn’t know. Inside this letter there was another letter with your name and he asked me to give this letter to you at your nonna’s funeral. Here.", and he handed me a letter with my name on it, Dahlia Darling, in my nonna's handwriting. I put the letter in the recipe book on the shelf, saving it for later.

“Thank you, Attilio. Can I call you Attilio?", I asked.

The reception was finally over. Mama was on the couch, in the same spot where nonna was in her last minutes, and was knitting. I didn’t know she knitted. She didn’t say a single word the whole day and I didn’t push her. 

I found my dad in nonna’s bedroom.

“I will miss her. She wasn’t my mother but when I started dating your mama, she was like a mother to me", he said, sitting on her bed, with her reading glasses in his hands. “Will you be ok all alone here? Do you want to move back with us, or do you want us to move back here and be closer?", he asked with a broken voice.

“No dad. I’m fine. I loved nonna and I always will. I can’t live anywhere else. I want to stay in this house that is home for me. You take care of mama.", I answered. And it was the truth. 

He took my mom and together went to the hotel to rest. 

I was starting to clean up the living room when I heard someone whistling in the kitchen. I went to see who was still there to find Attilio with my apron on, filling the dishwasher and putting away the leftovers. 

“You don’t need to do that. I can handle it", I said, abashed but relieved to have someone helping me. I was probably relieved I wasn’t alone, yet.

“I’m sure you can, but I think you are tired. So go change your clothes, put something more comfortable on, and read the letter. Then we'll talk", he said with his killer smile but in a commanding tone. 

“Are you sure?", I asked.

“I am. Go!”

But before going upstairs, I went on my music app and picked La Traviata, the music he was whistling.

It was already dark outside when I finished reading the letter. I got up and went back to the kitchen to find a spotless house, and Attilio sat at the table with a cup of hot tea waiting for me.

“Are you ok?", he asked looking at me.

“Did you know?", I asked with the letter in my hand.

“No, I found out reading my grandpa’s letter. They were lovers. I was angry at the beginning. Then I thought about it and realized that there was nothing to be angry about. Your nonna was an amazing woman who lost her husband when she was still young, my grandpa fell in love when she made him the “orecchiette con cime di rapa", and he was already divorced. She had magic recipes for everybody, he told me a few days before dying.", he said, staring at his empty mug.

“I’m not mad. I just can’t believe I’ve never realized that. I lived with her since I was 11 and I’ve never noticed anything. But I remember how sad she was when he had to move back to Italy. For weeks nonnaàs dishes were sad, tasteless, not exciting. Something was wrong inside her. She stayed here because of me. Signor Filippo asked her to go with him", I said, and tears started falling down my cheeks.

He stretched out his arm and he covered my hand with his. He squeezed it a little. 

“Dahlia, don’t, please. Do not blame yourself for her choice. I didn’t know her if not through my grandpa stories, but if they were only half true, she would never blame you for her choice to stay.", he said, heartening me. 

I stared at him for a few long moments. Then I got up and said, “I need to cook. You are hungry”.

“Dahlia, you’re tired, don’t worry for me, I can make myself a sandwich with some leftovers", he replied.

“No. It’s her, don’t you get it? She’s telling me to prepare you a meal. Just sit here and tell me the stories your grandpa told you. Do you mind pouring some wine? It’s in the fridge and the glasses are in that cupboard", and I started preparing dinner for two. I was suddenly hungry too.

My mind was telling me to make veal cotoletta with asparagus and Parma prosciutto and a lava chocolate cake. 

He cut the veal cotoletta, forking some asparagus and prosciutto with it, sipped wine, looked at me in the eyes and said “I know now what my grandpa meant. I can easily fall in love with you”.

Then it was dessert time. The smell of chocolate surrounded us, and when he opened his souffle a creamy chocolate lava erupted. He brought the fork to his mouth, first smelling the chocolate aroma, then eating it. He closed his eyes, savoring it. Then without a word, he finished the cake, got up on his feet, came toward me, helped me to get up and kissed me. A long, deep, passionate kiss. One of those kisses that leave you breathless, your heart pounding in your chest, and your panties wet.

He hugged me, then his hands slid down to my hips pulling me against him. It was in that moment that I felt a bulge pressing against my belly. I had to stop this.

With my hands on his chest I pushed him away. 

“Wait. We need to calm down and talk", I manage to say, still breathless.

“I… I’m sorry. I had the feeling that you were with me and…", he said, probably mortified.

“Yes, I was with you. I am with you. But… I don’t know how to explain", I was trying to explain to him something but I was embarrassed.

“You are right, we should date first. I was an ass. And it’s the day of your nonnaàs funeral, I was rude. I am really sorry", he said.

“Wait a minute. Stop talking.Let me explain. Can we sit on the couch?", I went to the living room, I looked around and said “By the way, thank you for cleaning up everything". 

“No problem, really", he answered sitting on the couch.

I needed to look at him in the eyes, to see his reaction about what I was going to say. I sat on the couch, turning toward him, with my legs crossed. 

“Attilio, I like you. I liked you the moment I saw you in front of me this morning. And when I felt the need to prepare you that meal, I knew you were the right person for me. That’s what nonna always said to me - Do not marry a man if you don’t feel the need to cook for him. Do not give your body to the wrong man. You will know when the right man will be in front of you -", I said, imitating my nonna’s voice.

Immediately Attilio replied “I fell for you the moment I saw you at the funeral. I know it’s weird because I don’t know you, but when I talked to you here, today, I felt something I’ve never felt before. But I should have asked you out first", he said looking down at his hands.

“Attilio, I’m going to say something but I need you to look me in the eyes.", I said with a finger under his chin and pulling up his face.

“You… ehm… you are the first.", I continued, hesitant. I gave him some time to digest the news. It’s not usual to meet a 22 year-old girl, ready to graduate, who is still a virgin.

“You mean… you mean… virgin? As in… virgin? You never… you never had sex?", he babbled, but a shadow of a smile appearing on his face. A reassuring smile.

“I’ve never kissed a boy. I’ve never been touched. I’ve never made love. I had sex…. with myself", for this last sentence I couldn’t look him in the eyes so I looked down.

He repeated my gesture, with a finger under my chin, he pulled my head up.

“You are one of a kind, and you are more interesting by the minute. I’ve never made love with a virgin, not even my first time. I really want to make love with you, if you allow me. I promise to be gentle and careful. I try not to hurt you but I can’t promise that. What I can promise is that, after that uncomfortable moment, everything will be better.", he said his promises in a low, warm, deep voice.

I nodded. He took my hand and together, hand in hand, we went to my bedroom.

Here he held me against the wall to kiss me. Deeply but gently.

“Do not move", he then whispered, and went to turn on the light on the nightstand and pulled down the blanket. I was nervous but so happy. I knew he was the right man.

He came back to me, kissed me again, grabbed the hem of my shirt and pulled it off.

“Mmmm…", he murmured, moving his face down to kiss my chest. With his tongue he traced the hem of my bra. It was so incredibly exciting.

I could hear my heart pounding hard in my chest.  

He then pulled the cups of my bra aside to uncover my breasts and with his hands cupped them. His thumbs gently caressed my nipples.

“Your breasts are beautiful. You are so beautiful", he whispered.

I couldn’t rebut. I was mesmerized by his gestures, I couldn’t talk. I could even believe what he was saying.

He then went to lick my nipples beds and my nipples and then sucked, gently at first, then with more passion. I felt my tummy roll, and I had the instinct to hold his head in place, moaning. Down in my panties I felt wet. I knew about the wetness caused by the arousement, but this was different, this was more.

He went back to kiss me and moved his hands under the hem of my yoga pants.

“May I?", he whispered, asking for my permission to pull off my pants.

“Yesss”. I wasn’t sure I said that, but as he started to pull down my pants, I guessed I actually said the word. 

He was kneeling before me, looking at my black-lace thong. Then he pressed his nose against my mound inhaling deeply, his hands caressing the back of my legs, starting from the ankles and up. When he was to my knees, he pushed a little to make me open the legs. His nose was still there and his hands went up to that point at the top of my thighs. I never imagined it could be so exciting being touched there.

He hooked his fingers to my thong and pulled it down, slowly, slowly. My knees couldn’t hold me so I put my hands on his shoulders. 

Once my thong was off, he made me open my legs more. He kissed my pussy, opened my puffy lips and licked between them. I’ve read romances where this was described, but I couldn’t imagine it was so… so… 

Then I felt his finger rubbing back and forth between my lips, beside my clit. After a little, his finger entered my pussy, followed by another finger and with his thumb he was rubbing my clit. I gave up. Fire was building inside my tummy, my legs were growing weak, and with my hands I clenched up tight to his shoulders. My heart skipped a few beats. Jeez… this was… oh my god! This was insane!

“Oh jeez… oh my… Attilio I’m cumming…", I said a moment before cumming “Yessss… yessssss… yesssss….". Still and not breathing, I was trying to regain consciousness. 

I felt him picking me up, and lying me on the bed. I heard him undressing and then I felt him beside me. He kissed me, and I tasted my essence on his lips, on his tongue. It was overly exciting, I couldn’t get enough. 

He moved his body between my legs and whispered “How are you doing?”. 

Talking during sex is overrated. But somehow I managed to explain him “I used to touch myself, and I had orgasms before, but this… this was… different”

He grinned. 

“Would you like a replay?", he asked, still grinning.

“Maybe later. Now I want your cock inside me", I said, rubbing his wet cock with my hand, eager to have him inside me.

With one hand he opened my legs and said “If you bend your knees toward your chest, it’ll be better for both”, with a reassuring, deep voice. 

I did as instructed, but before he entered me, I pulled my head up a little and looked down: I wanted to see his cock touching my pussy: it It was throbbing. With one hand I wrapped his cock and rubbed my pussy up and down. The scene was very erotic.

“You like what you see?", he asked grinning.

“Very", I answered in a sultry voice. Then I put his cock right at my entrance, leaned my head back on the pillow, and kissed him while he slowly and gently, pushed inside my pussy. I put my hands on his butt cheeks to push him in and I pulled up my pelvis to encourage him to go deeper. I was eager to feel his cock deep inside.

“I don’t want to cum too early and I don’t want to hurt you.", he said, pinning my hands on the mattress.

I had to succumb to his rhythm. 

After a moment I felt it, the discomfort, the pain. I held my breath, gasping, stiffened, squeezed my eyes. He stopped, knowing what was happening, and looked at me. 

“You ok?", he asked in a worried voice “want me to stop?”

I shook my head. “No. just wait a second”. And it was gone. The pain was gone. I sighed of relief, smiled and said “Ok, it’s gone.", and I pressed my pelvis to his to encourage him. 

He pushed deeply once and waited to see my reaction. I pulled up my pelvis again and he got the message. 

He pulled his cock almost all the way out and I opened my eyes wide, as to ask “What are you doing?", but I didn’t have time to speak, as he pushed his cock back inside. Deeper this time. 

We engaged in a rhythm that was perfect for both of us. But then I felt my tummy roll again and the need to speed up the rhythm a little. He let my hands go and I put them on his butt cheeks. This time he let me push and squeeze. 

“Dahlia, darling, I’m almost there", he said in a husky voice.

“Yesssss…. Me… too… ", I replied, breathless.

Then I arched my back, I grasped the sheet in my fists, and I came “Yesssss… yesssss… yesssss”. 

My legs shaking and my pussy squeezing his cock inside me was his signal and he let go, gasping, he pushed, one, two, three, four times. The sensation of him cumming inside me was incredible, warm, intimate. Then he fell on top of me exhausted. 

Our hearts were pounding fast, our breathing heavy. I hugged him, rubbing his back covered with a little perspiration.

He chuckled feeling my pussy still squeezing his cock, and said “A few seconds and she won’t have anything to squeeze”

He got up, went in the bathroom and came back with a wet towel to clean me up. 

“Oh wow. This is nice", I said, delighted.

“There is a little blood. Not much", he said, with the expression of a little kid who broke his mother’s vase. 

“It’s ok. It’s natural. You’ve been incredible. Now I’m a little sore, but I want to do this again, and again, and again.", I said, kissing his face.

He kneeled down, beside the bed and said, “Dahlia darling, would you marry me?”.

Wow! That was a surprise!

“We met this morning. Don’t you think it’s a little too soon?”, I answered in shock.

“Ok, yes, we can date. I will take you to dinner, and to the movie theater, and then I’ll buy you a ring, and I will ask you again, but you have to say yes!", he said in one breath, hopeful.

“OK, I will say yes, I promise", I said, laughing happily. 

I looked up at the ceiling. “Nonna darling, thank you”.