"It would have been thirty-four years today," sighed Shirley Finklestein."
"What woulda been thirty-four years?" Betty asked.
"My wedding anniversary." She explained. "Saul, may he rest in peace and I would have been celebrating today."
"So what are you doing tonight?" Betty asked.
"What should I do? I ain't got nobody top celebrate with," she said." I'll just stay home and watch TV."
"Well you can come over here, Shirley," her friend offered. "No sense sitting home and feeling sorry for yourself."
Shirley put on her flannel nightgown and sat on the sofa. She picked up a copy of the People Magazine and thumbed through the pages.
Betty's words echoed in Shirley's ears. "No sense sitting home and feeling sorry for yourself."
For years, Saul took Shirley to the Olive Garden for their anniversary. Dressed in his best blue suit and blue and red tie, he always made her feel like a princess.
"I'll take myself to the Olive Garden. Like old times.Maybe I'll feel better," she consoled herself.
"Table for one." Shirley said, as she approached the front counter.
"Yes ma'am," the hostess said cheerfully. Shirley noticed the tattoos on the woman's arms as they both walked toward the very back of the restaurant. "Oh, I'm afraid we have no deuces available. Do you mind sitting at a four top?" the hostess asked.
"No," Shirley replied, as she the hostess laid a menu in front of her. Shirley took a seat and stared at the three empty chairs at her table.
"Enjoy." The hostess said as she walked away.
Soon the waiter walked over carrying four glasses of water. "Would you care to order a beverage or would you prefer to wait until the others arrive?"
"If we waited until the others arrived, I'd be dead," Shirley replied."
As she ate her shrimp scampi with unlimited salad and breadsticks, Shirley Finkelstein recalled her life before Saul. She wasn't always the princess.
"Welcome To The Traphagen Junior High School Ninth Grade Dance," the banner read. It was mandatory for every student to attend.
Grudgingly, Shirley entered the room and stood by the table of cookies and punch. The boys leaned against one wall, the girls fidgeted across from them on the opposite wall. The music was playing but no one was dancing.
"OK ladies and gentleman," the teacher, Mr. Lessing called out. "Grab the hand of the person directly across from you. Everyone is going to dance to this next record."
Shirley grabbed the hand of Billy Burnbaum and they began slow dancing. Her first dance with a boy. She couldn't help but notice that Billy had a grimace on his face.
"What's the matter, Billy?" Shirley asked innocently.
"Just my luck to get stuck with the second ickiest girl in the ninth grade," he complained
Shirley was taken aback by his comment, but had to ask the obvious question. "And who is the first ickiest girl in the class?"
"Phoebe Wellman," he answered calmly.
Shirley looked at Phoebe. Her hair was uncombed and sticking out at every angle. Phoebe wore the same dress to school everyday. Phoebe smelled.
"I think I've had enough dancing," Shirley said abruptly to her partner.
Maybe she was a tad chubby...well...fat.. Maybe she wasn't charming around the boys. Maybe she didn't know all the answers in class, but Shirley knew she was no Phoebe.
But that experience followed her throughout junior high school and high school. She wasn't pretty enough. She wasn't thin enough. No boy would ever want her as a girlfriend. And therefore, no boy ever did.
Saul loved her unconditionally. Saul protected her from the world. No more the second ickiest girl, on the contrary, Saul called her his "Princess." From the moment she met Saul, Shirley never doubted herself.
But her heart ached for her deceased partner. Coming to the Olive Garden was a mistake. "What's the use?" she asked herself. "Saul is dead and that's all there is to that." She sighed."I'll never find another Saul. Shirley began to cry.
Looking through her purse for a tissue and finding none, Shirley got up from the table to go to the ladies' room for some toilet paper to dry her eyes and blow her nose. She purposely left her sweater on the chair so the waiter wouldn't clear her table and seat another party.
When she returned, she grabbed the waiter's eye, "Check please..."
That had been their little joke. Shirley would always be the one to say "Check please," but Saul would quickly reply "Oh no, my princess. This one is on me."
"That's all been taken care of, Ma'am. You check has been paid," the waiter informed her.
Astonished, Shirley asked, "By who. I ain't been sitting with nobody."
"A man." the waiter replied. "A man in a blue suit and a blue and red tie. He said to say,'This one's on me, Princess.'"
A tear welled up in Shirley's eye as she got up from the table.
Maybe it ain't all ancient history," she thought. Maybe in his own way, Saul is standing right next to me all the time."
Shirley Finklestein walked out of the Olive Garden and, for the first time in a long while, she felt like a princess.