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Scenes from an Italian Restaurant

He calls me at 7.

"Pulcinella's," he says.

I'm confused.

"It's a legend," he explains.

"A legend according to whom?" I ask.

"According to anyone in North Carolina. Pick you up at 8. And wear a dress."

The line goes dead.

I am wearing a dress. He is wearing shorts-the kind that zip away from pants.

We can't find Pulcinella's until we figure out it's in the strip mall with Food Lion all the way out on Hope Valley Road. "Classy," I smile. He looks a little scared.

We are starved--the place smells amazing. People with pizza are popping in and out, and the entire place is packed. We wait for 30 minutes, our name on a list a mile long. Aside from the little girl clinging to her father's neck, we are the youngest ones here, and definitely the only ones from Duke. When the hostess calls our name, it feels like a lottery win.

"I made bruschetta this week," he declares, picking up a gooey piece of toasted table bread. It smells like garlic and singed tomatoes, and tastes like Tuscany.

"Did you make bruschetta like this?" I ask, already knowing the answer. He swipes the last slice from my plate.

Italian dressing is not supposed to be a marvel. But this stuff, homemade, is amazing. We smear it on everything, including the croutons. Chicken Marsala, the waiter's favorite, is inhaled in three minutes-if only there were more! We begin to pick at the baked eggplant ziti when he kicks my chair. "Let's order pizza!" he says it like a little kid.

I nod like a grown-up. We get a large veggie pie. It takes us all night to finish the Chianti, which is deep purple and potent. A little unsteady, I sit back in my chair. I wish we had room for dessert--"just like the main courses, I'm sure it would have been amazing.

"I'm not from Italy," I smile, "but I really like your restaurant."

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