I was walking to the First Avenue bus stop in order to get home after a long day at the office, and it started to rain. On the corner was a guy selling cheap umbrellas for $10. The kind that rarely survives it’s first rainfall. In any case it was better than getting water dripping down my back. I hated that. I was tired and I wanted to get some food in my belly and go to bed.
I stood craning my neck, trying to see above everybody’s head, to see if the bus was in sight. Nope, not yet. I wondered if it would have been wiser to walk a few blocks west to the subway.
Then I noticed a very pretty girl holding a newspaper over her head to keep the rain off. The poor girl looked miserable, but even with rain dripping from her nose she was till beautiful. I walked over to her.
“Please, share the umbrella with me.” I said holding the umbrella between us.
She looked at me startled, as she didn’t expect New Yorkers to, first of all to talk to strangers, and second, to offer to get wet for a stranger.
“Thank you.” She answered.
Now that I was next to her I saw she was even prettier than I first thought. I didn’t want to stare, so I kept sneaking glances at her, under the guise of looking for the bus.
“You live uptown?” I said nonchalantly.
Well, I guess she didn’t want to chat, even with a white knight with an umbrella. I would therefore mind my own business and wait for the bus. The problem was that I could not find a single misplaced cell on her face. She was gorgeous. Her dark eyes a pool of mystery and intrigue. I was too close to her, and she had a raincoat, so I couldn’t see the rest of her without being obvious. I needed to stop this fantasizing. Still, I could feel warmth emanating from her body. Nonsense, my imagination was running rampant again.
Fortunately, I was saved by the bus. When the door opened she quickly embarked and found a seat next to an old lady. I moved to the back of the bus and stood holding on to the railing. Within a couple of stops the bus was completely full and I could no longer see my dark and mysterious maiden-in-distress.
Soon I forgot about her and started thinking about getting some dog food for my brother’s dog. Until a few weeks ago my only pet was a Pet-Rock, then my brother had to go on a trip and asked me to keep Sage, his golden-chesapeake mix, till he returned. I was living in a small studio in Manhattan, but I really enjoyed taking the dog for a walk in the park every day. Today was going to be the exception.
A week later I decided to take the bus again, instead of the subway. When I got to the bus stop I noticed a familiar face. It was my mystery woman. Without the rain dripping down her face, she looked even more beautiful.
“Hi!” I said smiling.
She looked at me and I detected a slight frown on her face, until she recognized me.
“I didn’t thank you the other day for letting stand under your umbrella.” She said.
“It was totally my pleasure. It’s not often that I get a chance to save a damsel in distress.” I said.
“I was not in distress, I was just wet.” She said.
“It was still my pleasure.” I said.
She looked at me for the longest time, then with a slight shake of her head, turned away from me.
“Did I say something wrong?” I said.
“Please leave me alone.” She said.
“Sorry.” I said.
I wasn’t sure what I had done, but felt chastised, and turned away to see if the bus was coming.
A few minutes later the bus arrived and I let her enter first. She found a seat close to the front and I went to the back of the bus. The bus was half empty and I noticed that she got off on 85th Street, the stop before me.
Oh well, maybe she was married to a very jealous guy. Then I noticed, when she got up, that she was not wearing a wedding ring.
I started getting up to be ready for my stop, so I could get home to Sage and my Pet-Rock. The only difference between them was that Sage licked me on arrival and my Pet-Rock just stood there looking forlorn and making me feel guilty for leaving her alone all day. I had thought about taking her to the office with me, but then my coworkers would be certain that I was nuts.
The next day after work, I started going towards the subway station, when on impulse I decided I would take the bus again. When I arrived at the bus stop she was there, waiting. I tried to give her my most sincere smile and a slight nod, and then I stood away from her reading the Daily News. When the bus came I entered first and found an empty seat. To my astonishment she sat next to me. The smell of her perfume gently enveloped me. It was a familiar scent.
“I’m sorry I was rude to you yesterday.” She said.
I turned to look at her, she was even prettier up close.
“You weren’t rude. I should apologize for intruding.” I said.
“You were just being polite and I told you to leave me alone.” She said.
“You can make it up to me if you will have a coffee with me.” I said.
“I can’t.” She said shaking her head.
“Why? Do you have a man in your life?” I said.
“It’s not that. I just can’t.”
“It’s just a cup of coffee. I said.
She looked at me carefully.
“Just one cup?” She said.
“Ok, there is a coffee shop on 86th Street and First. Just a cup, ok?”
My heart skipped a beat.
“Yes, I know it. I just live on 89th.” I said.
Then turning towards her I extended my hand.
“My name is Peter. What is yours?” I said.,
“Maria.” She said taking my hand.
Her hand was soft and warm, and I felt a surge of energy or something I couldn’t decipher. I didn’t want to let her hand go. She gently but firmly took her hand back.
“It’s nice to meet you.” I said.
“Likewise.” She said.
Soon the bus stopped at 85th Street and we both got off. We walked a block and entered the coffee shop. We found an empty booth and sat down across from each other. The waitress came and we both ordered coffee.
“Tell me about you. Where do you work?” I said.
“In Wall Street. You?”
During the next 15 minutes I learned that she was Italian and was raised in Brooklyn and her family didn’t like her living in Manhattan. She kept looking at her watch.
“Do you have a date?” I said.
“No, just nervous. I don’t want anybody so see us here together.” She said.
“Why? We’re just having coffee.” I said.
“My father is very strict.” She said.
“Well then. I want to meet him. Ask him if we can have dinner together.” I said.
“You are crazy.” She said laughing.
“I’m serious.” I said.
“I’m not worth the trouble.” She said getting serious again.
“Of course you are. I was smitten the first day I saw you. I would like to have dinner with you.” I said.
She looked at me for a long time, trying to decide how to answer me.
“My father has a restaurant on 3rd Avenue. Come to the restaurant and sit at the bar. I’ll meet you there and you can meet my father. We’ll see how it goes.” She said.
“When?” I said.
“Tomorrow, Saturday. Come at 7 p.m. It’s called Bella Italia on 3rd and 79th.” She said.
“Sounds great. Do we want to eat there?” I said.
“No, I don’t think so. Let’s see what happens when you meet my father.” She said.
A few minutes later she finished her coffee and got up. I rose to accompany her.
“Thanks. I prefer to leave alone. See you tomorrow.” She said as she gave me one of those unforgettable smiles.
I sat at the table after she left still smelling her lingering scent. A smile slowly covering my face. Well, this went well, I thought.
After paying for the coffees I walked down to D’Agostino’s grocery store to pick up a few things for my apartment. While I was looking through the shelves and trying to find a few things somebody bumped me from the back.
“If you turn around, I’ll shoot you.” Somebody whispered behind me.
I froze. This was not a friend of mine playing a joke on me.
“Just stay there looking at the shelves and listen to me closely.” He said.
I stood there looking at a box of Tide soap.
“You need to stay away from Maria. If I think you are bothering her, or hurt her, I will kill you. Now nod your head if you understood me.” He said prodding my back with a gun.
“Good. Now don’t move or turn around. Count to 20 and then continue shopping. And don’t tell Maria we met. That would upset me a lot, and you don’t want to get me upset.” He said.
I stood there frozen looking at the box of soap, and the rest of the cleaning supplies in front of me. After what seemed like 20 seconds I ventured to turn around slowly. There was nobody behind me. There were a few women shopping and an old man standing at the cashier paying for his eggs. What had just happened? Did I imagine this? The sore on my back where he jammed the gun or whatever he had, assured me that it was not my imagination.
I went home and made myself a sandwich and a drink. Sage soon reminded me that he needed a walk, so I grabbed the leash and headed for Gracie Park. I had no idea of what had happened. Maybe it was a jealous ex-husband? She told me she wasn’t married. Did that mean that I should not meet her tomorrow? If I didn’t and she asked me why, should I tell her about the guy? No, bad idea. He warned me about that. What exactly did he say? That I should not bother her? I didn’t remember exactly what he said, but the gist of it was that I shouldn’t hurt her. I had no idea of who the guy was. He spoke English with a bit of an accent. My guess was that he was Italian. Maria looked Italian, but she could be from any Mediterranean country.
I continued with my walk, grateful that my brother was coming back on Sunday and would take Sage with him. I was getting tired of having to walk the dog twice a day. At least my Pet-Rock didn’t require walks and he didn’t shit on my carpets.
Saturday came with the familiar summer heat. The city was quiet, as many people left to go to the beaches. The rest stayed in suburbia, and left Manhattan to us locals to enjoy. I had not decided what to do about my so called date. I guess I would venture to the restaurant and play it by ear.
I spent the day running around, getting things done that I neglected earlier. At 6 p.m. I took a shower and cleaned up. While in the shower I wondered why I was going through all this trouble. I had not had to meet the parents of any girl since I left high school. It was not as if I was going to ask for her hand in marriage. This was supposed to be a casual dinner. Then I saw her face. She was stunning. I couldn’t wait to see her again.
At 7 p.m. I entered the restaurant. It was a typical Italian restaurant in New York. Autographed pictures of famous people adorned the walls and the tables sported red checkerboard tablecloths. The tables were almost all full. Most of the customers were of Italian origin and speaking English mixed with Italian in a loud voice.
When I walked up to the bar, the noise stopped. Most of the people at the tables turned to look at me. Gradually the noise came back as the patrons started talking again. I looked around and could not find Maria. I ordered a scotch and water and sat at the bar wondering if this was a fool’s errand. I drank half of my drink and was wondering if I should ask the bartender if he knew Maria, when out of the corner of my eye I saw the kitchen door open and Maria emerge. She was stunning. She came to the bar.
“I see you decided to come.” She said.
“There was no doubt in my mind.” I answered standing up and shaking her hand.
She pulled up a stool and sat next to me.
“Half of these people are my family. My mother is in the kitchen and my father is sitting at the table by the kitchen door with some uncles.” She said.
I looked towards the kitchen door and saw 4 large men sitting at a table smoking cigars and drinking espressos. They were all intently looking at us.
“I don’t think your father likes me.” I said.
“Probably not. I warned you.” She said.
I took another drink from my glass.
“My mother will be out in a minute. She may like you.” She said.
“Do you have to go through all this on each date?” I said.
“I don’t date anymore. Nobody will go out with me a second time.” She said.
I thought about what she was saying. No doubt the guy who approached me at D’Agostino’s was in this room somewhere. Somebody had been following Maria and saw me chatting with her in the coffee shop.
“I don’t scare easily.” I said with a smile that belied my nervousness.
“We’ll see.” She answered.
The bartender brought Maria a Coke. She turned to me.
“What do you do? I mean in your work.” She said.
“I’m a stockbroker.” I said.
“They are going to ask you these questions when you meet them.” She said.
“It’s ok. I’m not worried.” I lied.
Then the kitchen door swung open and a corpulent woman with a kitchen apron came out and sat at her father’s table.
“That’s my mother.” She said.
Then the bartender approached us.
“Your father wants you at his table.” He said.
“Let’s go.” She said getting up.
We walked over the the table as everybody in the restaurant followed our progress.
“Papa, Mama, this is Peter. Peter and I are going out for an early dinner.” She said.
I walked around the table and shook everybody’s hand.
“Peter this is my father Vito Borselli, my mother Elena Borselli, my uncles, Gino and Tony.
“Why don’t you have dinner here. Mama made some great food.” Her father said.
“I eat here every night. We want to go out for a change. Maybe have some Chinese food.” Maria said.
“That’s not good food. Eat good Italian food.” Said her father.
“I like Chinese, Papa.” Maria said.
“Let the kids eat wherever they want, Vito.” The mother said.
During the next 15 minutes I had to explain to Vito, and everybody else at the table, where my parents came from and where I grew up. They were disappointed I was not Italian.
While we were chatting, the waiter brought some pasta for Vito and his friends.
“Wow, that smells incredible. Did you make it Mrs. Borselli?” I said.
“Yes I did. You must try some.” Mrs Borselli said. Then turning to a waiter she told him to bring a plate for me.
“Stay and eat here Peter. You go out another night.” Mrs Borselli said.
I just realized I had been given a kitchen pass for another date. I was happy. I turned to Maria.
“Why don’t we have dinner here tonight. Tomorrow we can go out for Chinese.” I said.
Maria looked at me with frustration.
“I told you they wouldn’t let us out.” Maria said.
“Tomorrow we go out for dinner, right Mr Borselli?” I said looking at her father.
“Yes, tomorrow. Tonight you stay with us and we celebrate together.” He said emphatically.
I looked around the restaurant. There was only one empty table left.
“Can we sit there?” I asked.
“Yeah. Sure. Enjoy your dinner.” Mr Borselli said.
I got up before anybody could object and took Maria’s hand and walked her to the empty table. I held her chair back and she sat down.
“What are you doing? I thought we were going out?” Maria said.
“We are and we will. Tonight I thought it important to get your parents to trust me and like me.” I said.
“Are you conning us?” She said with a smile.
“Absolutely. Now you can decide what we have for dinner. That pasta your mother made was incredible.” I said.
She looked at me in that same intense way she did before.
“I’ll be right back.” She said.
Maria got up and walked into the kitchen. In a few minutes she returned.
“I really hope you like Sicilian food.” She said.
“I do. So are you Sicilian?” I said.
“Yes, You know Sicily?” She said.
“Only from the movies. However, I have spent some time in Napoli and Milano. Oh, and I vacationed in Positano one year.” I said.
Soon the food came out and it was as good as advertised. Throughout the dinner Mrs. Borselli came over to our table to make sure everything was all right, and probably to make sure I wasn’t playing footsie with Maria. Mr Borselli watched us like a hawk throughout.
When the dinner was over we went to their table for an espresso and a Limoncello. We chatted about New York and the blackout. We also blamed Mayor Beame for the fiscal crisis.
About an hour later I thought it prudent to retire. I turned to Maria.
“I think its time to get some rest. Tomorrow is a busy day. I have to prepare for a presentation on Monday. Can I take you home? Or do you prefer to stay here?” I asked.
“I’ll stay with my parents. Thanks for coming.” She said.
“Can I get our bill?” I asked the waiter.
“Nonsense. You are our guest.” Mr. Borselli said.
“Thank you very much.” I said.
I walked around the table and shook the mens hands and kissed Mrs. Borselli’s hand. Then Maria got up.
“I’ll walk you to the door.” She said.
When we stepped outside the restaurant she turned to me.
“You charmed the pants off my mother. My father also approves. Do you know what you are doing?” She said.
“I just wanted them to get to know me, that’s all.”
“Well you did that. So, do we have another date tomorrow?” She said.
“Absolutely. Wild horses couldn’t keep me away.” I said.
I think I skipped all the way home. I had a really good time, and I couldn’t wait to get to know Maria better. I knew that one had to move slowly with Italian families.
Then all of a sudden I remembered the D’Agostino threat. I didn’t know what to make of it. The rest of the walk home was spoiled by the memory of the insinuations that the mystery man left me with.
When I got home, Sage greeted me happily. I had forgotten to take him out, so I grabbed the leash and started back out. We walked over to Gracie Park. I sat on a bench while I watched Sage sniffing all the trees. I often wondered what it would be like to have such an acute sense of smell. Then I was startled by a man with a black coat who sat on the bench next to me. Something about him seemed familiar.
“I thought I told you to leave Maria alone.” He said.
The blood in my veins turned to ice.
I turned to look at him. I couldn’t see his face as the park lamp was behind him, shadowing his features. His hands were in the pockets of his coat. I thought this was the end of me and he would pull out a silenced pistol and let me have it here, in sight of Gracie Manor, where Mayor Became lived.
“You are going to hurt her. I told you that I would kill you if you did. But the Borselli’s like you a lot, so I’m going to explain it to you. Maria likes you. I think you like her too. But this isn’t going anywhere. You are a stockbroker and a relationship with the Borselli’s will hurt your career. Mr. Borselli is being investigated by the Justice Department and all his phone calls are being recorded, Maria’s too. Soon the Feds will pull you in and try to get you to testify against them. You are fucked if you do, and fucked if you don’t. The only way to stay alive is never to see Maria again. You may break her heart little, but she’ll survive.” He said.
My head was spinning with all this information.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I’m her godfather. My job is to protect her at all costs. In Sicily we take that responsibility very seriously.” He said.
“But I told her I would take her to Chinese tomorrow evening.” I countered.
“That would be a very big mistake. Remember the first time we met. I wasn’t joking.” He said.
“So what do I do?” I said.
“You don’t take the bus any longer. You take the subway and if you ever see her again you walk away. You never return to the restaurant. It will be better for both of you.” He said.
“No buts. Have you ever asked yourself why the most beautiful woman in New York didn’t have boyfriend? Now you know.”
“Can you tell her…”
“NO! You walk away now. You never speak to her again. I don’t care if you were falling in love. This is not a love story. This is persecution by the Feds and we have to protect ourselves. Now I’m leaving. I don’t have to ask you to nod if you understood me, do I?” He said.
I nodded. “I understand.”
The man in the black coat got up and slowly walked away.