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This story arc has been published as a novel!

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Cold Comfort Food

Suzanne Feldstein leaned her head against the cool metal doorframe, willing herself to unlock the door and go inside.

It took her only a minute to get moving again, partly because she didn't want the next-door neighbors to see her (again) and comment (again), and partly because her feet hurt so much that the pain radiated all the up to her neck.

A rich and welcome scent greeted her. Ira, wreathed in wrinkly smiles, emerged from the kitchen wearing an apron over his baggy trousers and t-shirt. She could have wept, and had to scrub at one eye to keep from doing so. "Oh, Ira, you made dinner. That's so sweet of you! Did I forget an occasion?"

He grinned. "You've just been looking so down lately, sweetie."

She kissed his slightly bristly cheek. "Thank you. Just let me get out of this monkey suit and we can eat."

"I already fed Josh," he said.

She then had to have her requisite look-in on Josh, which consisted of looking over everything with a practiced eye before heading for her bedroom.

She avoided looking into the kitchen when she reemerged.

They ate in near-silence in the dining room. Suzanne tried hard to remember to make appreciative noises as she ate -- it really was good food, but she was so hungry and tired, she just wanted to shovel it down. Ira was giving her his nervous and worried smile from time to time.

When she'd finished, she said, "Thank you, Ira. That was delicious."

"Do you want any more?" he said. "I thought I'd get myself seconds."

She hesitated a moment, thinking of the theoretical diet that she always claimed to be on at work, then handed him her plate and nodded. "Please."

When he returned, a plate in each hand, he was also juggling her latest bottle of wine and a wine glass. "I forgot to bring it out earlier," he said as she took the awkward implements so he could set the plates down. "I'm sorry."

"Please don't apologize, Ira," she said, pouring herself a glass.

She took more time to savor the food this time. The potato kugel was particularly good -- she remembered that he'd made it a couple years ago -- and she had a weak spot for steamed broccoli with hollandaise. He liked the hollandaise as tart as she did, for which she was grateful when she made breakfast for the two of them on the weekends. Josh had never much liked her hollandaise.

The wine was relaxing the muscles between her shoulder blades and in her neck. Ira produced what he called a "boughten" poundcake for dessert, and despite the colorful frosting (frosting? on pound cake?), it wasn't a bad end to the meal.

As she cleared the table, she asked, "How was the new PT?"

Ira looked up from the news. "Oh, she was fine. Suggested some water exercises for him." He snorted. "These young things always think we haven't tried everything yet."

"They're just trying to help," she said. Then she looked down at the plates in her hands, and at the kitchen door.

The last time, it had taken her until midnight to clear the mess, and she still couldn't figure out how he'd gotten chocolate on the ceiling over near the basement door.

She set the plates down on the table and went back out into the living room, where she put her feet up and watched the news with Ira.

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