by Matthew Sanborn Smith
"How much do you love me, Pietro?" Lyla asked. They held each other beneath the stars in his back yard, while Gert, her little Scotty, sniffed circles around them.
"You'll call me a dope if I tell you the truth," he said. His eyes looked tired and his smile was wide and soft like he had something good in mind.
"No, I won't. Tell me!" Lyla urged him on with a sharp hug.
"All right. For forty-five years, I was absolutely miserable. I didn't have a hard life or anything, but I was starving for something I couldn't get. I didn't even know it existed. It was you, Lyla. I needed you to live as much as I needed water. I didn't know what living was until I met you last year.
"I feel like I've spent my life paying my dues and your love is some incredible reward I've earned for all of my heartache. If I had to live my life all over again and I knew that after forty-five of the worst years imaginable, I'd have you there waiting for me at the end, I'd sign up for it in a heartbeat. That's how much I love you. I feel like you're a part of my soul and if I die tomorrow, everything will have been worth it.
"Look at you, you're speechless," Pietro said.
"I don't know what to say," she said.
"Tell me how much you love me, then."
"Well . . . okay." Lyla looked at his chest, then down at Gertie before looking at Pietro again. "Um . . . Lots! I guess."
He kissed her passionately and they made love, falling asleep in the grass just before the dawn.