The Utter Importance of Cheesecake
Written in 2023 inspired by Juniors Cheesecake
He sat there across the table from the love of his life. His nerves were firing keeping his squirming in his chair. His left hand remained in his pocket toying with the ring box as he tried to find the perfect moment.
“I don’t know what my plan is when I graduate. I really don’t want to work on a Master’s, I mean I’ve been in school for seventeen years straight.” Kara played with her hair trying to keep it behind her ear as she spoke.
Rick nodded and agreed with the statement not paying any attention to the words coming out of hopefully, soon-to-be-fiancé. He did not understand his nerves. They had known each other for nearly a decade, they shared everything together, they lived together, why couldn’t he ask her one simple question?
The waiter came and took their food away. “Is there anything else?”
“Cheesecake please.” Rick stated knowing he had to find more time.
Kara looked around expectantly. She knew there was a proposal that night. It was her birthday, they were a year away from graduating college, and she had told him there needed to be a proposal. But, still the anticipation regardless of how much she knew it was coming was overwhelming.
The chit chat continued with neither person really having any interest in anything except what they felt they could not mention. The Cheesecake Factory where they sat was bustling with people, the Sunday evening service was quite popular at that specific mall location.
The waiter returned with the classic piece of cheesecake. The white triangle with the red gooey sauce dripping down the sides. He placed it down and turned to walk away without a thought.
Kara looked down to grab her fork when Rick slid out of the booth and dropped to a single knee in front of the table. “Kara, I have spent the last eight years with you and over those eight years I have had trouble going a single day without talking to you or seeing your beautiful face.”
The words coming out were not registered by Kara as the world seemed to spin a little faster than normal. Her mind was elated with the moment happening.
Rick babbled on not knowing what he would say but just letting his mind confess whatever it wanted to. In the end the only people who would remember the actual proposal were the couples sitting in the nearby tables watching two strangers start their official life together.
The question was asked, the answer was given and they both returned to their cheesecake. They both would have been annoyed with Rick for ordering plain cheesecake when they both preferred the crazy chocolate swirl caramel whatever it was called. But, in that moment, in the elation of being together with their new commitment, it was the best tasting cheesecake they had ever had.
They walked down seventh avenue with sweat beading up on their face. It was a sweltering ninety degrees in Manhattan, but the newly weds were from Texas where it was fifteen degrees hotter. They had already been to Central Park, had a bagel for breakfast and were looking to go to Barney’s where they could show off to the world how classy they were by buying something at the department store, two new graduates with no income had no right to be.
As they walked around New York City on their honeymoon, just a couple days after their small church ceremony. They did not seem to notice how much they stood out. Seventh avenue was filled with people in dresses and suits while the young couple wore shorts and t-shirts advertising the college they had just graduated from.
They realized how hungry they were, but still forty blocks away from Barney’s they stopped at a little place called Carnegie Deli. They walked into the tiny storefront that was crammed with tables and no visible chairs. The waiter welcomed them and sat them across from each other at a long table where they were shoulder to shoulder with strangers but only each other’s eyes to look into.
It was odd, it was different than what they were used, it felt very New York. The meal was fine and no one in the deli seemed to care about their attire, unlike the workers in Barney’s just an hour later. They were fed too much food. Both were stuffed even if they were not impressed with the quality.
The waiter asked how everything was and Kara mentioned it was not her cup of tea. Before they knew it the waiter would not bring them a ticket, he was determined to make the experience right. After a few minutes the lunch rush was over and most of the people in the restaurant had departed. The couple sat laughing about their trip and new life while they enjoyed having a bit shoulder room all of a sudden.
The waiter returned with a tray held high in the air. “I will not charge you for the corned beef hash. You did not like it. I will not charge it.” The words sounded oddly New York at least that was how Rick heard not being accustomed various nationalities and accents back in Texas. “But if I do that for you. You eat this for me. It is very good. You can’t leave here with a bad taste in your mouth, so you eat this before you go.”
“I don’t like normal cheesecake.” Kara protested as he lowered the plate in front of them.
“It is good. You eat and like.” He said as he stood back to watch us try the dessert.
They both dug in with their forks laughing over the situation. As they put the creamy pie to their mouths an involuntary moan came out of them simultaneously. The taste was immaculate, the moment was pure joy and youthfulness. It brought them both back to the moment nearly a year before when he proposed.
They finished the cheesecake and felt awful with so much weight in their bellies. But it would be the most memorable moment of their honeymoon and would stick with them for years.
For years they lived in Texas and tried to recreate their honeymoon through food. Looking for New York pizza and New York Cheesecake. They would go to every restaurant that opened with the statue of liberty painted on the wall and try to decide if they could truly mimic the flavors of New York.
At one point there was a pizza place that came close. He claimed to import his water from the city of New York, but it was likely just a line by a salesman. But that taste of New York Cheesecake never really came about. They tried and tried unaware of the idea that they were looking for their old selves. They were looking for that feeling they got so many years before.
It had been five or six years since their honeymoon and things were not going as well as they hoped. They had drifted apart and spent most of their time trying to take care of their two children. They spent little time together enjoying each other’s company. Most of the time they spent in the same room was either cooking, cleaning, dealing with kids, or silently pouting about how their life was not turning into the dream they planned.
One night they a friend who volunteered to babysit. They were able to go out on a date, all alone, for the first time in a few years. They got dressed up and planned to go to the Cheesecake Factory in honor of their proposal dinner so long beforehand.
Once at the mall they realized how overcrowded it was. There was no chance they were going to be able to wait for a table in time for their friend who was watching the kids. So instead, they spent the evening walking around the mall just talking. They tried to get to know one another again. They searched for that spark that got to where they were. It was a beautiful night, they ate Auntie Anne’s pretzels instead of dinner.
Just before it was time to go home and return to their real life they stopped at Barnes and Noble. The little café in the back had a slice of chocolate strawberry cheesecake. Rick bought it and took his wife’s hand, leading her outside. They sat at a little wire table with two chairs and shared the cheesecake. It was not amazing, the flavor did not bring them back to their youth as he hoped it would, but the attempt was there. They both recognized it, but maybe the cheesecake was no long that magical connection.
A few more years passed and things had healed. They may not have been the people they were when they fell in love, but they were each other’s happiness. Their children were now hitting the double digits in age and the family found themselves in New York City for an impromptu vacation.
When they had gone on their honeymoon it was not about sightseeing, but seeing what it would be like to live in New York. So many years before they spent their time walking, talking, eating, going to shows, and just living for that week in Manhattan. Now, with two children, careers, and responsibilities, they took the time to see all the great things about New York City.
They bouldered in Central Park, went to the top of the Empire State Building, took the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. But it was near the end of the vacation when they went to go find the Carnegie Deli that they felt a true sense of loss. The deli had closed. The memories they had of the odd seating and the decadent cheesecake fell by the wayside.
Somewhat dejected they made their way back to the life of the city to find an alternative dinner. Having already had New York Pizza and a hot dog from a street vendor they went with some random sports bar off of Times Square. The dinner was fine and as they were gathering their coats to take a late February subway ride back to their hotel facing Central Park, they noticed a bright orange and white sign.
The colors immediately brought to mind Whataburger, a burger joint in Texas that has a near cult following. They followed the colorful lights like a group of zombies to noise. What they were treated with was not the southern hospitality of Whataburger, but the lively, fun, energy of New York
City living in the bright orange and white restaurant. It was named Juniors and it boasted about the quality of its cheesecake.
Kara and Rick looked at one another with that fondness they felt those few times around cheesecake and decided to share the moment with their kids. Despite the idea in his head that everyone would want one of the wild flavors like cookie and cream or strawberry shortcake, he ordered four plain cheesecakes with the strawberry topping.
They took their plates and sat outside in the cold eating their cheesecakes and watching the crowd huddle outside during the intermission of Hello Dolly across the sidewalk. It was a moment none of them could describe. The kids made sounds trying to put voice to the happiness their taste buds had found in the cheesecake. Rick and Kara and laughed at their kids, felt happy for what they still had, and held hands under the table. It was one of those times where nothing really happens, but there is a memory that lasts forever. The family all finished their cheesecake and felt miserably full. Rick looked at Kara and said, “I love you.” Knowing that he was once again feeling that tie back to their proposal and honeymoon. The cheesecake had done it again.