Chapter 1 - Unknown number
It was only the end of April, but the weather outside made it awful sticky. The air was thick and heavy and sweat clung to everyone. The passing people pushed and rushed by like cats on hot cars, all trying to catch the green light en-route to the shade on the other side, paying no mind to the others all doing the same.
The strap on my bag dug into my shoulder without mercy, all but cutting off the circulation, so that I had to shift it to the other arm as I stepped on to the crossing. The lady next to me dragged a suitcase wildly and I just managed to get clear of its wheels. To this I gave the briefest shake of my head and quickened my pace, hoping to avoid an injury that day. As I reached the sidewalk something struck my shoulder, hard and a guy on skates rushed by me in a blur of colors.
“Hey!” I shouted as he receded into the crowd, but then of course I saw his headphones and realized it was no use.
Rolling my eyes, I walked over to the coffee shop with the red awning and putting my weight behind the big glass door, shouldered it and pushed inside. As it swung shut behind me, I took a deep breath and let the cool air from the air conditioner bring me round. Wiping the sweat from my forehead, I dragged myself over to my favorite table near the window at the far side of the room and slumped onto the nearest chair. I threw my bag onto the sill next to me, grabbed an “At Luigi’s” menu and began to fan myself frantically with it.
“Bella ragazza!” Paolo came over with a broad smile on his face and pinched my cheek, “Why the sour face? You look like you’ve been sucking lemons!”
“Hey, baby-face. What's up?” I flashed him a wry smile.
“If anyone else called me baby-face, I’d be insulted, but since it comes from someone pushing five feet tall and with such beautiful eyes, I just can’t hold it against you,” he grinned at me, took a look around to make sure no one was waiting to order, and sat down next to me.
Paolo was one of many Italians who’d settled here, hoping to make it big working as a model for one of the famous fashion houses. Unfortunately, none of them seemed to want him, and after a year of trying desperately to get in on the action, he’d come to work as waiter at his uncle Luigi’s bar. Even though he had a perfect face, well-defined features, piercing dark eyes and a great physique, he wasn’t exactly tall, and no agency was interested in hiring a male model under the requisite height.
Most people would probably slide into depression or give it all up in his situation, but Paolo didn’t. I was fascinated by his persistence and his attitude, which put him always on the bright side. For him, the glass was always ‘half full’ and every failure spurred him on to try harder the next time. For over a month he’d been working on a business plan that would let him open up a pasta restaurant downtown. We constantly jibed that he’d come up with this plan only to fatten up the competition, so that he could sign up as a top model in their place.
“How is it going with your devilish plan to raise the average weight of your fellow citizens?”
“More than good. In fact, everything’s ready. The only thing left is to find some money and I’m in business.” he shrugged his shoulders, as if this was just a formality.
“I love your optimism.”
“Sasha darling, a little bit of positive thinking wouldn’t hurt you either. You sit there like a drowned puppy instead and you look like you hate the whole world.” he stole a glance at me and, with a look of displeasure on his face, pointed a finger in my direction, “And what the heck is that?”
“You like it?”
Getting up from the chair, I turned on my heels and batted my lashes a few times. I was wearing silver sandals with sequins, dark low-rise jeans with a boot cut, and a lightweight, dark blue tunic with rhinestones along the edges. My long, light brown hair was twisted into a thick plait that ended just above my waist. When I turned around, dozens of silver bracelets and dangling silver earrings jingled like silver bells at Christmas.
“Did you know you’re the only person who can put such terrible things on, and still not look like a fortune teller?”
“And you are so shiny. You remind me of a pimp in that silk shirt.”
“You didn’t mind Tyler wearing silk shirts...”
“Don’t mention that bastard, please.” I looked away, sat down in the chair again and started twisting my bracelets.
If there’d been any chance of me finding myself in a good mood, it evaporated right there and then. I’ll never understand how I could have let myself believe Tyler’s lies. I always thought I was a real good judge of character; never imagined that any man could make a fool out of me. And what makes it worse is it seems so ordinary – that a girl should fall for charming words and even more for a handsome face. I let this smooth-talking jerk have me wrapped around his little finger for almost six months.
People tried to warn me, of course. They told me Tyler was playing the field, that I should wake up and smell the coffee. I dismissed it all, convinced that they were saying those things because they were jealous of what we had. Idiot! I had done my best to please him from the beginning. I dealt with his fits of jealousy and his mood swings, brought ice for his hands when he came back after yet another fight, I even sat through the dreadful Steven Seagal movies he loved so much. God I hated those! I was such a fool! It was plain for everyone to see. Perfect body, sweet smile, considerate blue eyes… all just a thinly veiled disguise for what he really is – sneaky, low down and selfish. I thought I’d landed the best catch at university, but I came down to earth soon enough. Two weeks ago I caught him necking in the park with one of my classmates. That image still made me retch, so I tried to force the thought from my mind.
“Sorry, I wasn’t thinking.” Paolo came up to me and hugged me