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Authors: Manuela Pigna

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BOOK: Training in Love
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“Well,
really well, I have to say,” I answer smiling.

Nic
bursts out laughing and looks at me mischievously. “Of course… I never doubted
it!”

“What
an idiot!” I reply lightly shaking my head.

“Is
there something I missed?” Interrupts Linda sitting up. I believe I can see her
ears perking up even under her loose hair.

Nic
is about to say something, but I speak first, “Andrea is a good looking guy and
this idiot is insinuating that I am happy with him because of that.” I redden
slightly and cross my arms.

Nic
laughs. “He’s a little more than a good looking guy. At school he was a legend.
Unless he’s gone downhill in recent years…”

“He
hasn’t gone downhill,” I answer a bit too quickly, and Nic, after a second of
hesitation, laughs even louder.

In
a certain sense, a sense already too familiar and friendly for my tastes, I
feel sorry for Andrea because it almost seems as though he is successful in his
life and his plans only because of his face. “Look, he’s good at his job,
really! He fought to have this job and I think he’ll have a brilliant career.”

Nic’s
still laughing. He’s really enjoying himself. “I don’t doubt it for a minute!”

“Well,
is he really that good looking?” Linda asks looking at me.

“Yes,”
Nic and I answer together.

“I
don’t remember him very well…” Says Marco.

“But
who are you talking about?” Asks the brunette, speaking for the first time
since I arrived.

“One
of my highschool classmates, I don’t think you know him… Andrea Colucci,” Nic
answers distractedly, looking at me.

The
brunette lets go with a scream, looking, for all intents and purposes, like a
fifteen year old at a One Direction concert. “I don’t know him? You must be
kidding! Who doesn’t know him? I died for him! And I haven’t seen him once
since he came back…” She exclaims with a mournful air.

“Maybe
because he was always in Milan for college...” I attempt to give her an
explanation, but she treats me as though I hadn’t opened my mouth.

“Why
didn’t you tell me anything?” Linda asks me in the meantime.

“Why
should I have told you?” I answer shrugging my shoulders.

She
shrugs hers. “I don’t know – you’re seeing someone like that and you don’t tell
me anything?”

I
laugh, a little bitterly to tell the truth. “Does it make any difference?”

“You!”
The brunette jumps to her feet practically yelling.
“You’re-seeing-Andrea-Colucci?”

She
is definitely hyperventilating. In order to save her I hurry to clarify, “He’s
my personal trainer!” And raise my hands as though I were being robbed.

The
brunette remains with her mouth open for a few seconds, then blurts out, “He
what?”

I’m
about to repeat myself, but she’s still speaking, “I need a personal trainer
too! Give me his number, I have to lose a few kilos too!” She says in a state
of semi-exhaltation. Then I look at her waist, cinched by a belt that could
easily be my bracelet and I raise an eyebrow without answering anything because,
thank heavens, Nic stands up with a suddenly serious look on his face. “Excuse
me? Maybe you’ve forgotten that I’m right here beside you?”

She
looks at him with her eyes wide open. “Oh Nic, please! You and I aren’t
together, we aren’t anything! We both know very well why we see each other, and
Andrea Colucci has always been my dream!”

Linda,
Marco and I remain silent. There is a cold pause, then Nic turns to me with a
hard expression which I’ve never seen before in the six years I’ve known him.
“You will not give her his number, that much is certain.”

I
swallow. He adds, “If she wants it, she can go look for it.”

“Oh
Nic, please!” She whines, tugging on the sleeve of his sweater.

He
gives her a withering look. “Sara! Pull yourself together!”

She
puffs like an eight-year-old who hasn’t received the presents she asked Santa
Claus for. She looks at me a second, sits down and crosses her arms. Nic sits
down again by her side, then Sara, clearly audible to all those present, says,
“I don’t believe it! I’ve been after him for years. Me! I’m–after–him–for–years,
and what does he do? He sets himself up in a job where he’ll only spend time
with obese losers!”

And
after this phrase a tomb-like silence falls over the room. Worse than the
previous moment of chill. I can’t seem to move, or say anything. I almost can’t
manage to breathe. Marco and Linda are as immobile as two statues of salt and
Nic looks at her, still and quiet too, but I can’t seem to read the expression
on his face. She, the lovely Sara, doesn’t seem aware of anything I think, and
is still bemoaning her bad luck.

Only
after a few minutes, or maybe only seconds that seem an eternity to me, do I
get control of myself again. I clear my throat before speaking, “Well, have a
good evening then.”

Linda
and Marco say goodbye. Linda has a sad face that I’ve already seen several time
before because of me, or better, because of how people sometimes treat me.
Marco can’t seem to look me in the face.

Sara
doesn’t even pretend to say goodbye, and Nic doesn’t look at me or say
anything. He’s staring at her.

I
leave. As I walk quickly towards the door of the house I only pray that I don’t
meet Mrs. Bonaventura, because I’m afraid that if I hear even one kind word in
my direction I might break down and cry… I’m almost there and about to open the
door when a hand stops me and I whirl around. I find myself in front of Nic who
regards me seriously. I look at him without speaking, because I really don’t
know what I could say.

“I’m
sorry,” he says after a little. I swallow to avoid crying and shrug my
shoulders.

“I
didn’t even ask her to come and apologize in person, because I don’t think she
even realizes what she said.” He sighs. “She doesn’t realize what she says.”

I
nod. Then, out of pure curiosity I ask, “Why do you go out with her then?

He
looks at me without saying anything and I remain still, waiting for an answer
that will never come, waiting for him to say what, in the end, I already know.

“Oh!”
I exclaim finally, as though he had answered me and I had understood. “You know
something Nic?” I say without being able to stop myself, “Someone like you –
handsome, intelligent and nice, could raise your standard a little.”

He
says nothing, he just looks in my eyes and it seems as though I can almost hear
the words, “Raise them how? Going out with a cow like you for example? To make
conversation? But I don’t want to make conversation…”

I
nod again, then free my arm from his grip. “I meant, you could go out with a
pretty girl who has an ounce of…” And I tap my finger on my temple.

Nic
tips back his head and inhales noisily, as though I had given him a mild slap.
After a few seconds of silence he whispers, “There aren’t many of those.”

I
look in his eyes and just say, “Ah. Well, have a good evening with
Sara who
doesn’t realize what she’s saying
.”

He
doesn’t respond and I push through the door and finally leave.

 

5.

 

Thursday
morning I’m in the cafè working. Today it’s my turn to be behind the counter.
I’ve worked here for four years, since before I finished college. In the
beginning I only worked weekends, then over time I went to a couple of
afternoons during the week and now every morning.

I
like working at the cafè, even if the dream I have for my life is different.
From an aesthetic standpoint it’s a charming place, with French décor, all in
wood with tables of different sizes, styles and colors. The tables are set up
in front of a large, long glass window which includes the entrance, composed of
a glass door with a frame in dark wood. Opposite the door is a long, high
counter, which I’m standing behind now. Behind me there are two coffee machines
– one from the 1950’s and one modern one.

We
have a mixed clientele. There are a lot of students, but also elderly people
like Madame Barbieri, who is reading a newspaper perched on one of the tall
multi-colored stools, each different from the other. Madame Barbieri always
sits at the counter. Early in the morning there are also many people who come
for breakfast before going to work. There are a lot of offices and two banks in
the area. After nine o’clock the place empties a little and things are quieter.

The
owner and cook, Leo, is in the kitchen. Leo worked for a long time in France and
a year in America too, then he came back here ten years ago and opened this
small and cozy cafè. Leo cooks fantastically – besides the fabulous croissants,
he makes stupendous cakes, all different. Today, for example, we have a
blueberry jam tart - my absolute favorite – and strawberry cheese-cake. Every
so often when I arrive early, I help him, but he still hasn’t allowed me to
make one on my own. He says I’m not ready yet.

I
also have a co-worker, Rosalba, who is blond and thin. The story of my life –
I’m always surrounded by thin blonds. Rosy and I take turns. When I’m behind
the counter, she serves the tables and vice-versa. Rosy isn’t the top for friendliness,
to be completely truthful,  but she’s not mean either. Let’s say that there
isn’t a great deal of feeling between us, but there is superficial courtesy. Sometimes
she makes some comment I don’t like, but for most of the time we work together
smoothly, without major problems. She’s a bit older than me, almost thirty –
twenty-eight or twenty-nine I think – and this is the only life she has. She
works here all day every day.

Madame
Barbieri is reading my horoscope, as she does every morning. I’m completely
sprawled out, with my elbows on the counter and my hands cupping my face and I
don’t even pretend to be working because the moment of the horoscope is  sacred
– Leo knows this. We are laughing heartily about certain “unexpected payments”
which should be coming my way before midnight, when I hear the entrance bell
ring and see Nic come in. I raise my eyebrows and say hi - he comes up to the
counter and sits by Madame Barbieri.

“Olly.”

“Nic.”

There’s
a moment of embarrassed silence - the last time we saw each other the
conversation wasn’t exactly the nicest we’ve ever had – but it’s quickly interrupted
by Madame Barbieri. “Olivia dear, do you know this Prince of Darkness?”

I
laugh. “Yes, he’s the brother of my best friend’s boyfriend.”

“Ah,”
she says, starting to study him with a theatrical air. Nic looks at her and
pulls a small, slightly embarrassed smile, while I chuckle to myself. Then he
turns to me.

“What
are you doing here?” I ask with the smile still on my lips.

“I
have to meet a friend and I thought I’d have him come here.”

I
nod. “Do you want to order or are you going to wait for your friend?”

“I’ll
wait,” he replies, half closing his eyes. It seems to me as though he’s
studying me for some reason. I squint back at him.

“Olly?”
Rosy calls me from two stools down and I go over to her, noting how she steals
a glance at Nic.

“What.”

“Here’s
the order from table three,” she says, passing me the slip. “Is that a friend
of yours?” She then asks me in a low voice.

“More
or less…”

“Is
he free?” She asks, straightening her brown apron and her hair, which doesn’t
need it.

“He’s
always free, and always occupied… I wouldn’t know what to tell you. Why?”

“Because
I was thinking… maybe you could give me his number,” she asks me sweetly. She’s
not usually impolite, but she’s not this sticky-sweet either…

“I
don’t have it,” I answer truthfully.

“Oh,
then he’s not your friend…” And she says it as though she knew all along, as
though it were obvious.

“Well,
I did say, ‘more or less’…”

She
glances at him again for a second, while flashing an idiotic smile she usually
doesn’t have. But I imagine she does it just in case Nic turns around and
notices her.

“You
could ask him for it for me though…” She’s even batting her eyelashes now.
No-one has explained to her that this doesn’t work with women?

“Yeah,
I could,” I reply reluctantly. Not because I care, or out of jealousy. I never
liked Nic that way. I think he’s nice and I think he’s good looking, but my
heart has never beaten faster for him. It bugs me that, once again, I have to
play the part of Cupid, of the intermediary, having to introduce this person to
that and that to this, having to ask for a phone number for someone else, or
put in a good word… I’m sick of it. I’d like it if someone would be an
intermediary for me, at least once in my life. It’s as though I’m never the
main character, as though I were always the prompter who’s hidden from the
public and whispers lines from her dark hole, and without letting herself be
noticed too much, thank you.

“Fine,”
she says, lowering her voice. “Let me know something.” She turns, taking it for
granted that I have to do her this favor when she’s never done one for me. On
the contrary. She goes to clean table five, directly behind Nic, with a more
upright posture than usual.

I
puff and prepare table three’s order. I use this time to relax my face as fast
as possible. I would never want – if I ask for his phone number for her with an
overly sad expression – for him to think that I was jealous or something like
that.

When
I’m sufficiently calm, or at least sufficiently able to pretend, I go to Nic.
“Hey, I don’t know if you’d call yourself ‘free’ or not, but you should know
that my co-worker,” indicating Rosy on the other side of the cafè, “asked me to
ask you for your phone number.”

“Ha.
Imagine that.”

Nic
and I turn around. Madame Barbieri pretends to have said nothing and to be
totally absorbed in reading the paper. She keeps her white head bent over the
pages (which she is clearly not reading!) and leafs through the pages with her
bejeweled hands and red fingernails, wetting the index finger of her right hand
in a gesture that always reminds me of my father.

I
look at Nic. “So?”

He
rotates towards Rosy and doesn’t even pretend not to be studying her. I see how
his eyes run slowly over her, and I’m annoyed, unjustly, once again. No-one has
ever looked at me like that. Finally he turns towards me smiling. “You can give
it to her.”

“Yes,
but I don’t have it…”

“Later
I’ll give it to you, so you can give it to her.”

“Ha.”

We
eye Madame Barbieri. Still with her head bent, still pretending to read the
paper.

“What
happened to
Sara who doesn’t realize what she’s saying
?” I ask Nic as
soon as soon as I understand that she has no intention of saying anything more
than an enigmatic ‘ha’.

Nic,
who was observing me, moves his gaze and looks towards the door. “We don’t go
out anymore.”

“Oh!”
I exclaim, sincerely surprised. “I’m sorry… since when?”

“Since
Saturday night,” he says looking at me just for two seconds and then taking his
mobile out of his pocket.

“Oh.
I’m sorry.” I can’t help but smile. “How long did you go out together?”

“Since
Saturday night,” he answers without looking up from his phone.

A
small, thin laugh. I turn to Madame Barbieri and, as I imagined, find her still
extremely concentrated on the newspaper. I smile at both of them, even though
neither of them are looking at me, and I smile so much that I think you can see
my molars. I get a dishrag and wipe the counter. It’s clean but I want to do
something while the two of them ignore me.

When
I hear the bell on the door, I lift my head and thank heaven they’re ignoring
me, because just like every other blessed time I see Andrea, for the first few
seconds my heart stops and my breath catches in my throat. After the initial
shock, my blood slowly starts circulating again. I take a couple of breaths
without letting myself be noticed and repeat that which is now my mantra – that
is, ‘Andrea is practically Linda’ – for a dozen times, and a little at a time I
manage to regain control and remind myself that he’s so far out of my league
that I can easily be normal. And it’s thanks to this secret mental exercise in
the first few minutes that usually, the rest of the time, I can even be truly
normal with him. It’s just that, every time, as soon as I see him I’m always
blown away - it’s as though I didn’t recall his face perfectly, or how he
appears in my memory and the impact of his beauty have softened a little.

“I
think your friend has arrived,” I inform Nic a little huffily. He looks up
towards the door, where Andrea is looking around, then he turns to me with a
small roguish smile. I look at him through narrowed eyes and he returns the
look, just like before but reversed.

“Hey!”
Exclaims Andrea, already here, slapping a hand on Nic’s shoulder. “How are
you?”

Nic
stands up smiling and embraces him briefly. Better to not exaggerate with girly
displays… But you can see they’re happy to see each other, they smile and slap
each other on the back. I’d like to understand this  - Nic chose my cafè for
their meeting after years of not seeing each other? Hmm. I observe Nic, and
while they talk, I hear a small, thin, amused voice at my left, “Olivia dear,
if you continue to squint your eyes like that, you’ll have wrinkles before your
time!”

This
is why Madame Barbieri comes here. Because in her life as a retiree she has
nothing to do and she enjoys making fun of us.

I
immediately relax my gaze, but I can’t stop myself from crossing my arms on my
chest. I look at the two of them. Andrea waves hi to me with one hand (even if
he’s less than a meter away) because he doesn’t want to interrupt Nic. I wave
back in the same way, then Madame Barbieri calls me with a “psst” and her index
finger. I move towards her and lean over the counter. In a low voice in my left
ear she says, “Who is the Sun God,
à propos
?” Madame Barbieri’s  third
husband was French.

I
burst out laughing, because “Sun God” really suits Andrea to a T. “He’s a
friend of Nic’s… My personal trainer.”

She
looks at me with renewed interest. “Very, very good Olivia,” she finally
comments, as though I had completed a test in class correctly.

I
furrow my brow and shrug and decide to busy myself with the cafè. The guys sit
down and when I start to walk away, Nic stops me. “Olly? Cappuccino with a
chocolate croissant for me.” Then he turns to Andrea who says, “For me an
orange juice and a coffee.” I nod and go to the kitchen to get the croissant.
After the rush hour in the morning we put them in the kitchen to have more
space on the counter.

Leo
isn’t there. Perhaps he’s gone out back. He comes and goes as he pleases.
Sighing, I take a plate and a napkin, placing the chocolate croissant on top,
but the plate is suddenly snatched from my hands. “Rosy!” I exclaim.

“I’ll
bring it to him!” She says with a sly smile.

“But
it’s my turn at the counter today…”

“Oh!”
She fakes a frown. “Don’t be so fussy! I’m even saving you work!”

I
shrug my shoulders. “Do you want to make the cappuccino and the coffee and
orange juice?”

She
jumps around in place. “Yes!” She yells laughing. “And who is the blond guy? My
God! I don’t know who to pick! Where do you keep these friends hidden anyway?”

“They
aren’t my friends…” I say in a low voice, but she’s not paying the least amount
of attention to me. “Anyway I already asked Nic for his phone number, you’re
not going to make me look like an idiot now, are you?” I ask, a little worried.

“No…”
She meditates, croissant in hand. “If they didn’t know each other and weren’t
here together I could… But as it is, it doesn’t seem like the thing to do.”

“No,
in fact.”

I’m
about to go back in when she grabs my arm. “Aah, I don’t suppose that while I
take care of them, you could do table two? There’s only two of them…”

So
she wasn’t free… I nod looking away.

When
I come out of the kitchen, Andrea turns to me and smiles. I can’t help but
answer him with a smile, but he wrinkles his brow a little.

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