February 1996


Giovanni mechanically trudged through the torrential rain, determinedly staring at the sidewalk in front of him. His stride was short, his step quick. In his left he held a briefcase, in his right, a sopping wet newspaper which he held above his balding head in a vain attempt to ward off the pelting droplets. "What's the point of a damn car if the damn parking lot doesn't have enough damn room to park it in, dammit," he muttered, half to himself, half at the sky. Giovanni was quite at home in the dirty New York Thursday afternoon bustle. He loved to complain about it as much as any other, but deep down he knew a more placid life anywhere else would bore him. Drenched, he finally reached his destination: a fire-red Volkswagen bug. Unlocking the door, he threw the briefcase on the back seat, and jammed himself behind the steering wheel. After three attempts, the unwilling engine finally sputtered itself to life, and Giovanni screeched into traffic, his horn blaring. He cranked up the heater, and the smell of hot, wet clothing slowly spread through the car. "Damn weather. Can't see a damn thing," he cursed as the car in front of him came to an abrupt stop.

"Hi! Dinner's ready!" his mother shouted as he walked in the door. He plopped down at the dinner table, across from his father. Their home was a typical New York apartment. It was dingy inside, mainly because of the drab, olive-green carpet, but it had a pleasant, homey feel to it. Newspapers and magazines were dotted around here and there, along with bills and unfinished paperwork.

Giovanni silently muttered "Did you meet anyone, dear? You know, you're thirty-four. You should be starting a family," into his spaghetti in perfect unison with his mother as she gave him the daily advice.

"You see the game?" his father asked, nodding at the TV, on which a soccer game flickered.

"No dad, it was a busy day at the office."

"It's always a busy day at the office. You work too hard," his mother said.

"It pays mom," he retorted.

"You should work with your dad. He can always use another cook or waiter at the restaurant. Isn't that so, Benito?"

His father nodded as he gulped down his beer.

"I like my job."

"But you work so hard!" his mother insisted.

"I don't even understand what you work at so much. What do they call it?"

"I'm vice president of the public relations department for publicity clients," he explained.

"It means he sells ads to advertisers," his father interjected between mouthfuls.

"Why can't they give you a normal job? Why can't you just be an editor or a reporter?"

"I like my job, mom," Giovanni said again, this time grabbing his now empty plate and carrying it to the sink. Giovanni detested the advice his mother gave him every night, mainly because he agreed with her. He thought about it often enough on his own and didn't need to be reminded. After giving the plate a quick rinse, he settled down on the couch in front of the TV. He had always assumed he would work in his father's restaurant - he hadn't particularly wanted to, but it was just one of the things he took as a given as a little kid. "What am I thinking? It's not my job, it's everything else," he told himself and forced himself to concentrate on all the little athletes chasing after the soccer ball.

Carina wrapped herself in her scarf, picked up her purse and umbrella, punched out, and, waving to Michelle, walked out of Healthy Foods and into the rain. Her apartment was just a block away, and she hurried home. "Hello Dennis!" She cried out, stepping through the doorway. A bright-eyed little cat ran up to her, chasing a ball of yarn. Scooping him up, Carina went to the kitchen, made his and her dinners, and settled down in front of the window with a book. It was admittedly a trash romance novel, but it was about a prince in Scotland and quite fascinating. She loved to let her mind be whisked away to places far away from the constant noise and throng of the city. Generations ago, her family had lived in Scotland. She always promised herself that one day she would go there and find distant relatives in some quaint little village surrounded by rolling hills and a fresh, crisp blue sky.

Giovanni stepped outside, fresh and ready for a new day's work. The sun was shining brightly, and he took a deep breath of the morning air before briskly striding towards his car. He glanced at his watch, and while doing so, smacked into a young woman. He flushed a little, but it wasn't very noticeable beneath his dark Italian complexion. The woman had been carrying a box and a light-brown apron, both of which were now sprawled on the pavement. "Can't you lo" he began, but stopped in mid-sentence, noticing that the young woman was quite attractive. Dropping his briefcase, Giovanni hastened to pick the fallen items. The young woman stooped to do so as well, but Giovanni was quicker and handed them back with a smile and a word of apology. She looked at him, and with a fake smile said "It's ok. Thank you. Goodbye," and hastened down the street the way she had been going. Giovanni smiled to himself, then again at the sun, and stepped over to his car.

Carina finished her cup of morning tea, folded up the newspaper, and got up from the table. Grabbing her apron and some muffins she had made for the other people at work, she said goodbye to Dennis and set out. It was wonderfully warm and sunny outside. Even here the middle of New York, she could discern the distinctive smell of a rain storm just passed. She strolled towards Healthy Foods, trying to block out the bustle around her and feel the sunshine. Suddenly she was violently torn from her reverie as a stout man bumped into her and sent her things sprawling. She scowled at his balding head and dark eyebrows as she tried to pick up her things before he did. She failed, and wished he would get on with it and go away as he handed them to her with a flourishing smile. Walking away, she did her best to recapture the tranquility of the morning.

Giovanni smiled after Carina as she walked away. She didn't look back, but he imagined her glancing over her shoulder, stopping, and running back to hug him, like a long lost friend. "Healthy Foods," he mumbled, remembering the letters stenciled on her apron.

Michelle and Dave were the other two employees working Carina's shift. Carina was glad it was them - they always seemed to be the most appreciative of the baked goodies she brought in from time to time. "Look what I brought!" she said, waving the slightly bent box of muffins for them to see. She loved the looks on their faces as they realized what she was talking about. With a quick glance at each other, Dave and Michelle dropped the boxes they had been stacking and raced to beat the other for the first muffin. Carina laughed - they were the most comical people she knew.

Leaving work a few minutes early, Giovanni stepped into his bright red bug and drove off. With a glance at his apartment, he drove onwards, scanning the signs for one with Healthy Foods printed on it. "Gotta be here somewhereain't real food, I don't go there, but I know where it is," he mouthed under his breath, just as the sign he was looking for loomed into view. He swung into a parking spot, and, ignoring the meter next to it, strode into the store. It was a small store, crowded with baskets overflowing with all kinds of herbs and vegetables. The big glass windows let in lots of light, illuminating the wood decor. From the back a warm smell of fresh bread wafted towards Giovanni as he stood at the entrance. He saw Carina standing behind the counter, talking to a customer. She looked cute wearing the apron that had led him here. Giovanni stood at a distance, waiting for Carina to finish with the customer. When she had, he strode up, trying to look as casual as possible, and greeted her. She looked confused, then, recognizing him, looked slightly irritated and said "You really bashed up my muffins this morning."

Giovanni apologized a second time, and, feeling awkward, picked up a little bag of health food sitting in a bin next to the counter. "You really eat this stuff?" he asked, grasping for a conversation.

"That's natural air freshener," Carina said curtly.

This time Giovanni blushed noticeably. Stretching out his hand, he said "I don't think I've even introduced myself. I'm Giovanni. Pleased to meet you."

Carina smiled her fake smile again, but said nothing and did not reply.

"and you?" Giovanni asked, awkwardly dropping his hand.

"My name is Carina, if you must know."

Giovanni chuckled.

"I wasn't trying to be funny," she cut him off.

"Oh. uh," Giovanni stumbled for words. "Well, I was just, well, funny we should run into each other again - get it? Run into each other. Ha! Well, I, I'd best be going. Oh! Do you have a phone I could use?"

Carina pointed him towards a pay phone in the front of the store, and turned her attention to another customer.

"I like your apron," Giovanni said, but she didn't hear.

Giovanni called his mother. "Ma - I'm not going to be home for dinner tonight," he explained.

"Are they working you too hard at the office again, Giovanni?"

"Yes ma. I mean no, but I'll be home late. I'll grab something to eat on the way home. Bye!" Giovanni hung up before his mother could protest anymore. Carina's shift had just ended, and she was taking her apron off. Giovanni took his time, pulling out his wallet and putting it back again, looking at his watch, and generally trying to look like he was doing something while Carina punched out. He approached her on her way out of the store. "I was wondering if you wanted to go out to dinner?" he asked her.

"With you?" Carina asked, looking very much as if she didn't believe her ears. Giovanni nodded.

"I don't think so."

"It'll be fun."

"We don't know each other."

"So how can you know it won't be fun."

"I can tell this sort of thing."

"Please?" Giovanni practically begged.

"What's your problem? You don't know me. You ran into me, knocked my stuff onto the sidewalk, and suddenly think that's enough for us to go elope! You're crazy - and you're balding too!"

Giovanni was totally lost for what to say, but he must have looked deeply hurt.

"I - I didn't mean that. I mean, well, you are balding, but - but that doesn't have to be a bad thing. I mean, I don't like bald heads, but"

Giovanni smiled. Seeing Carina flustered amused him. "We don't have to eat air freshener, I promise." It was corny, but it came to mind.

Carina suddenly realized she had been going to eat out anyway because she was out of food at home. "It'll make a funny story," she thought. She had a little notebook full of stories she had started - she dreamed of being a writer. "Wait - what am I thinking? I'm not this desperate for ideas, am I?" she asked herself. Then, in the back of her mind, she heard the voice of Michelle, chiding her "You're too timid! Go do something wild and crazy sometime. You know, if you're feeling daring one morning you could put on your left sock first!"

"Ok, fine!" she said.

"Ok what?" Giovanni, optimistic as he was, hadn't expected a sudden change of heart like this.

Carina had surprised herself too, but intended to go through with it. "Ok we'll go to dinner. Let's go."

Giovanni smiled, and pushed open the glass door for her.

"Is that your car?" Carina asked, spotting the red bug.

"Which?" Giovanni asked, noticing a sleek Jag in front of him.

"The red one - the one with the ticket on the windshield."

"Oh, yeah!" Giovanni said, and, suddenly making the connection, "Ticket?"

"I love bugs!" Carina exclaimed.

© Lorrin Nelson
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