Anita Mangiamelli shot me a worried look as I followed her father down a long hallway and into the library. Which was actually more like an office, due to its lack of books.
Peter beckoned me to sit. And I did, deep in a ruby-red leather chair. More espresso and anisette magically appeared via a male relative.
The older man opened, "You like-a my daughter, Irish?"
I dived in. "Yessir. Now, we've been out only once, and ..."
"Good. You fall-a in love with her?"
Oh, shit. "Well, no, not yet. It's early."
"Molto bene. Very good. Because," he wagged his finger,"she's-a pain inna ass. She drink-a too much Sambuca, she flirt with too many boys-a. She like to show off-a the ... tetto, you know?" He didn't need to translate.
He went on,"You seem-a good young man. Take-a my word, Arlene, she not good for you. Anita, better, but maybe a little old for you, no? Now, we toast and I get Foofi take you home. But, Angela or no Angela, you come-a back, si?"
Relieved, I tried my best, "Si. Grazie."
I sat nestled in the back of a sleek Caddy as Foofi returned me to my Mom's. On instructions, I had left my car keys with the paterfamilas. Licorice-induced sleep came easily. When I awoke the next morning, my van was parked in the driveway.
I thought about calling Angela. Granted, she was a good time, in addition to very alluring. But every time I thought of her, Anita would be standing right behind her. I found this disconcerting, to say the least.
At the Sons of Sweden a few days later, the crew wanted every gory detail of my dream date with Arlene. I spared many details. Nonetheless, I bragged about the magnificent feast the next day.
O'D started with the treatment. "So Ace, is she a real redhead?"
"Leave it, O'D."
Cuh-cuh remarked, "Beef bajawly, too? Howdja say that last name again? Mangle-a-mello?"
I said, "Cuh-cuh, you're getting better."
I finally called Arlene, still debating whether to ask her out again. I didn't have to.
"Oh, goody, Ace! Me 'n Anita is trowing a party at my parents' on Sardy. They're goinna my aunt's upstate for the weekend. We got food, 'n swimmin' 'n other stuff. Oh, please come over." She went on.
I swore I heard the word "Anita" wedged in there. So I agreed instantly.
Arlene also told me that I was welcome to stay over in a spare bedroom, hinting lustily of some apres-party hijinx.
Just in case, I brought another bottle of Easy Ed's stash to the event. Lakeview Drive was starting to jump when I got there. Cars were strewn everywhere. Professionally painted signs pointed me down a side path to the rear of the house. I found myself staring into the glass wall that formed one side of the basement rec room. Behind me was a naturally formed in-ground pool, complete with a slide and waterfall. Abutting it was a hot tub. Beyond: the lake, with a dock and a boat house.
Liveried staff manned a huge grill. Canapes were being passed. An outdoor bar featured two mixologists whipping up frozen drinks. About thirty people cavorted in the pool and about the grounds.
Arlene found me first. She wore a minuscule bikini that left little to the imagination. She jiggled over and kissed me, fully on the lips. More pineapple than licorice. She said, "Ace, I'm so glad you're here. I'll bet you know summa da people!" I did. Quite a few musicians dotted the crowd. I did a quick look-around and saw there were no instruments set up anywhere, which calmed me. Too often, I had been invited to parties and was expected to play.
In a moment, Anita was at her sister's side. I wasn't surprised to see her clad more demurely. Hair tied back, she wore a tank suit, sufficiently clinging, and board shorts over it. As Arlene pranced off toward the bar, Anita said, "Arlene says you're staying. Good. Why don't you get your things, and I'll show you to your en suite." Man, she doesn't even talk like her sister.
After I retrieved my duffel, Anita led me through the rec room and down a long hallway. She pointed out an exercise room, whirlpool, a steam room that could hold a dozen, and a sauna. It was a veritable pleasure palace.
After one turn, we entered another area. She opened double doors to a sumptuous bedroom. Glass doors opened onto a private patio near the pool. A large bath adjoined. I almost gasped.
Anita read my mind. "I'm glad you're here, Tim." How did she know my real name? How did she know I liked it better than my nickname?
I smiled my thanks. She said, "Now go enjoy all of this."
The chefs were whipping up Italian sausages on the grill and plating them up on impossibly wonderful, garlicky rolls. Soon, they were fashioning skewers of filet mignon, with peppers and onions.
I splashed in the pool for a while, chatting up some of my friends. I didn't feel Arlene until she pretended to bump into me from behind. I turned around. She made sure parts us touched. "Oooh," she said, "I'm hopin' my man is ready for me later. I'm ready right now." Sure enough, this made me, er, somewhat ready, so to speak. She kicked away. As she flitted among the crowd, I could see she was happy being the center of attention.
Later, as I lolled in a chaise, Anita caught my eye again. She pantomimed drinking from a glass and raised her eyebrows. I nodded. She soon came over to my chair with two frosty delights, complete with umbrellas atop. She said, "You look like you need a banana daiquiri."
One sip told me it was memorable. How comfortable did I feel with this woman? How old was she? I don't remember what we talked about; I was too enraptured.
Anita suddenly said, "Oh shit. Look there." At one side of the pool, somewhat sheltered by conifers from the rest of the crowd (but in a perfect sightline to us) was Arlene. She wasn't alone, but locked in a wet embrace with the thin, wan lead guitarist from Satan's Sword, a local heavy-metal poser band. His usually bouffy hair was plastered to the sides of his head, making for a totally unattractive look.
I turned away. Anita said, "Tim, I'm so sorry. Arlene just ..." She patted my hand. I think I felt a shock.
"It's okay," I said, feeling only a hint of sadness.
"Then you're not serious with Arlene yet?"
"No. Especially not now." Then I got bold and added, "Not with you here. To talk to, that is."
She smiled that wide-as-the-world smile again. "You're a doll. She doesn't deserve you. But I must go back to some friends I've invited."
"Wait." I dashed into my suite and retrieved the bottle of Sangiovese. I proferred it to Anita. "For you," I said.
"Ooh, I love this grape. No, this is for us. Someday." That made me shiver, ever so slightly.
As afternoon gave way to a delicious sunset above the lake, I continued to enjoy myself. Small treats were passed about. I hadn't seen Arlene for a while. Which was fine. I did notice bottles of Limoncello and Sambuca appear on the bar. Which was not fine.
As night fell, the few that remained made the rounds from pool to hot tub and then inside to the steam and sauna. I hung with some couples from my neighborhood, successfully forgetting about Arlene.
After a while, I had the steam room to myself. I went into hallway and saw nobody around. I went back to the steam and dropped my clammy board shorts. I wanted to experience this fully. My thoughts drifted to Anita and how she filled out her Speedo. An inevitable stirring filled me. Just as I was deciding whether to do something about it, Arlene wobbled into the steam room.
I could smell the licorice through the vapor. Arlene nearly shouted at me. "THERE'S MY MAN. AND OH YOU'RE READY FOR ME!" In a trice she pulled some strings and posed for me in the buff. The angel on my right shoulder vanished.
She leaped into my arms and said, "WANNA DO ME? RIGHT HERE!" It was a Hobson's choice. And so we began the dance.
This lasted but a few seconds. "OMIGOD," she said. She got up and ran into the next room and, on her knees, put her head into the toilet. The view was anything but spectacular. My priapic moments over, I slipped into my shorts and sought Anita, who was out by the pool with friends.
She took one look at me and said, "Don't tell me. Arlene's getting sick." She dashed into the house. I went to my room and put on Bermudas and a polo shirt.
Anita's friends asked me to relay their good-byes as the caterers and bartenders packed up. I suddenly realized that the Mangiamelli sisters and myself were the only survivors.
I sat alone by the pool for a few minutes, nursing a beer and my ego. I felt strangely at peace, despite the tumult of the last half hour. Anita came out to join me. She said, "I got her to bed. Are you all right? Let's go into the rec room." She held my hand as we walked. I felt that tingle again.
The night had cooled, Anita turned on a gas fireplace and some soft jazz. It floated from hidden speakers. We sat on one of the huge leather sofas. She made decaf espresso and produced an ancient bottle of brandy. The two combined wonderfully.
Anita, after a sip, said, "My sister's a pain in the ass. I don't know what you see in her."
I said, "That's what your father said to me a couple of weeks ago. Yes, I think I am through with her."
Anita said, "Good. You're better off. Now, let's talk about anything but her."
And we did. For a long time. She asked about my upcoming tour and music in general. She told me how she did the books for her father's business but wanted something different out of life. The topics swam by: food, travel, relationships, Mozart.
We both decided--almost on cue--that we had had enough. She walked me to my room and said, "Watch, I'm going to turn the air down to its lowest. There's a featherbed on the bottom and a comforter for the top. You will love it."
I changed into cutoff sweats and a tee. She was right. I felt as if I were lying on a cloud, and started to doze immediately. A knock on my door snapped me out of it. Anita, wearing a plush terry robe, appeared in the doorway. A hall light haloed her. She looked like a dream. What was underneath? Damn, gotta stop thinking that way.
She said, "I just wanted to check on you. Everything ok?"
I said, sleepily, "Better than that." I don't know where my next words came from.
"Would you tuck me in?"
She laughed, "Oh, you're such a boy!" Then she scooched the covers over me and brushed her lips to mine, ever so slightly, a mere touch. I slept the sleep of angels.
The next morning, Anita made me breakfast. Arlene was obviously sleeping off the previous night. I munched on luxurious, pillowy scrambled eggs, dotted with pancetta and fontina. We ate in silence.
She walked me to my car and said, "Promise me you'll come back before you leave for Canada. Promise."
"I promise," I said.
The next session at the Sons was a doozy. Elmo tried to drink a shot from the top of the glass to cure his hiccups. Total fail, thus ruining a dose of Jaeger and a fairly clean Izod.
Jenny Moriarty complained that a man had been in the Ladies' Lounge since a toilet seat had been left in the "up" position. "I nearly fell in," she groused.
Joe the bartender commented, "That would be anatomically impossible." This was an unfortunate truth since Jen consumed a box of Breyer's every night.
O'D couldn't stop asking me about Arlene Mangiamelli; I was already forgetting her. I finally admitted, "Okay, O'D. The collar and cuffs matched." He had obviously not seen Diamonds Are Forever.
Bear said, "Dumbass. Ace is saying she's a real redhead."
O'D: "I KNEW it!"
Cuh-cuh chimed in, "Not so fast guys. I was talking to Tony Falzone, who works down the Beachside Cafe."
The crew: "FALCONE. SURFSIDE!"
"Anyways, he says he seen yer girl Darlene Whatsername in there, muggin' it up with that skinny guitar player Scorpion from that metal band, Satan's Sword."
"ARLENE. SCORPIO. SATAN'S SPEAR!"
This was becoming enervating. Scorpio was, of course, the same pallid guy with whom Anita and I had seen Arlene at the party. Said Scorpio, whose given name was Hilary Kolbuzcewski, was the issue of a Polish-American father who had met his bride in England during the War. I would have changed my name, too. Perhaps not to Scorpio. At any rate, Satan's Spear--and Scorpio--had lots of hair but little technique.
To this, I remarked, "Well, she's not my girl." I flashed back to Arlene losing her stomach contents, but then quickly to Anita.
The phone call came not a week later.
"Oh Ace, you ain't called me, and I gotta tell ya I met another guy, and we have to break up." Arlene.
I said, "Is that right?"
"Well, anyways, you're goin' away soon, and he's a hot guitar player for--get this--SATAN'S SPEAR! His name is ..."
I broke in, "Sisyphus." This was turning into fun.
"What? No. Scorpio. Anyways, they gotta new CD coming out, called Metal Laundry. They're making it themselves!"
"That's remarkable, Arlene."
"I know, I'm probably breakin' your heart, 'n I don't wanna. But he's gonna be a STAR!"
I had to say, "Well, Arl, I had high hopes for us, but I guess it's not to be."
"I'm so sawry, Ace. But I gotta go. See ya."
I sent a silent thanks out to Scorpio, who was probably not practicing his scales.
I had a few weeks left before my tour began. The band's management sent me work visas and other paperwork. I shopped for new stage clothes.
And I received another call. This one from Anita Mangiamelli.
"Tim, have you talked to Arlene lately?"
"Not really. She called me to break up, so to speak. I was crushed."
"Hah. I'll bet. But this is serious. Arlene is pregnant."
Anita went on, "Yes. By that guitar player. He wants to have nothing to do with her; he's moving to Florida with his band. And my father is pissed!"
"Does he know--"
"Of course, he knows it wasn't you. He still thinks highly of you. But he's taking Arlene upstate to live with his sister. She'll have the baby there. But listen, are you free a week from Saturday?"
I said, "Well, yes. I leave the next Monday for rehearsals in Montreal."
"Would you like to come to dinner? Smaller this time. My dad wants to see you before you go. And I really want to see you. We can have a swim after dinner. And you can stay over. Please say yes."
I wanted to leap through the phone and ravish her. Quelling my voice a bit, I said, "Yes. Of course."
I was so excited about the dinner that I forgot to bring some wine. Anita greeted me at the door, wearing a thin sundress and a glowing tan. She hugged me, holding me for a few wondrous moments.
"I'm so glad you're here. Let's make this a memorable night."
Words eluded me.
Her father came into the foyer. He, too, hugged me, kissing my cheek. He motioned me toward the library. I knew I had to follow.
As we sat, he poured us each a tot of bourbon. We toasted, silently.
Pete took the floor, "Lissen, Irish. I'm-a sorry what happened with my Arlene. I knew right away, that it wasn't you who knock-, who made her gravidanza. It was that cazzo, that Kolba- guy." He bit on his thumbnail. Hard.
I said, "Pete, I want you to know that she and I never--"
Tears welled in his eyes, "Si. I just knew. She be-a fine with my Paulina up dere. But I hear you gonna go away."
"For a while. It's job."
"Si, si.The baterista, no? Never mind. My Anita, y'know, she got the eye, know what I mean?"
"No, I don't think so."
"She gotta her eye on you, Irish. I know she's-a little older. But,what can I say?"
I just smiled.
The meal, while less complex than my previous one, was a dream. A simple salad, dressed with a tasty vinaigrette. Then some linguine al'oglio, in oil and garlic. The entree was chicken rollatini, stuffed with prosciutto, sage and fontina.
I had a difficult time keeping my eyes off Anita, who sat next to me. Much of the conversation centered around my tour and Pete's talk of retirement. Every once in a while, Anita would put her hand under the table and give my knee the slightest caress. Finally I reached down and clasped her hand. Magic.
Pete shot us a smile for a moment. And winked at me.
Before the chicken came out, Anita excused herself. She returned with the bottle of Sangiovese from the pool party.
Smiling, she said, "Dad, do you mind if Tim and I have the first glasses? He bought this for us, special."
Pete said, "Sangiovese? Red wine with chicken? No problem. But you keep givin' him the sguardo di amore, we no gonna eat at all."
We postponed dessert until after a swim. Anita and I had the pool to ourselves. The late August night was a tad brisk and brimming with stars. I noticed Anita wore a two-piece this time, but it was conservatively cut. I also noticed she turned off the patio lights, as well as those submerged in the pool.
Once in the water, I tried to keep a chaste distance from her. She was having none of this. She yelled to me. "Get over here. Now." I obeyed.
I asked her, "What was that sguardo comment your dad made?"
Even in the gloaming, I could see her blush. She stammered, "Well, to be honest, he said, 'the look of love.'"
She grasped my elbows with her hands as we stood in the shallow end. I did the same to her. Pecking me on the cheek, she said, "I don't want to--"
I cut her off, "I understand."
She laughed and gently pushed me away, "No. I don't think you do."
We moved to the hot tub; she went into the house and returned with the rest of the wine. I tried not to x-ray her swimsuit. Instead we laughed and joked--even a little bit about Arlene.
Anita said, "Dessert. We should."
Changed, we rejoined the elder Mangiamellis for espresso, biscotti and anisette.
Pete said to me, "Hey, Irish. I gotta get Mama in bed and take care a her. We leave-a early t'marrah ta go see Arlene." Mrs. Mangiamelli crossed herself.
Pete came around the table, and gave me another hug. As did his wife. "Buona fortuna, Irish," he said. I thought I saw a tear in his eye. He followed with, "Now, you two, sleep-a tight," punctuated with a laugh.
Anita and I repaired downstairs. She unearthed the same brandy we had drunk, seemingly so many nights ago. We sipped and talked for a while.
She said, "I know this seems silly, my being older than you, but I'm going to miss you, Tim. You have to do this, don't you?"
I said, "Yes, I have to drum. It's a part of me. And tours like this help boost my career."
She leaned over and kissed me. On the lips. As light and fleeting as before. I think I said something.
Pulling back, she said, "I think we'd better call it a night."
I was fine with that. I could see this was not a night to get overly emotional. Or something more serious.
She hurried upstairs, leaving me to my chamber. I remembered to turn down the air conditioner before I got cozy.
Then I heard a knock at my door. I knew.
Anita came in wearing a robe. No sturdy terrycloth, but flimsy silk.
She just said, "Well, I have to do this." She flipped a switch and the main room lighting extinguished, leaving a stripe of dim blue lights limning the cove of the ceiling. She dropped her robe, leaving nothing but Anita. And then she slid under the covers.
Without touching me, she said, "In the pool, when I said, 'I don't want to,' I meant, 'I didn't want to get intimate in the pool.' I knew my father would be watching and probably approving. Lord, I wanted you to take me right then and there. I want you to take me now."
I shuddered, barely able to speak. "How about we give to each other, Anita.?"
She murmured, "Yes. That sounds even better. Please."
We didn't speak for quite a while as the dance really began.
In the morning, she pulled me into the adjoining shower. And we danced again.
And again in the steam room.
We napped during the afternoon. Then, we both knew it was time.
Upstairs, she fixed me a sandwich. Somehow, we kept our hands off each other.
She walked me to my van. She gave me just one of her small, cautious, feathery kisses.
"No big good-byes," she said. "Now, go drum your ass off."
While on the road, I received a letter from Anita. Two pages. One took my breath away. The second told me about Arlene. She had borne a son, named Hilary. Eventually, she met a Harley-Davidson dealer. He sold his business and married her, adopting the boy. They changed his name to Flintlock. They now live on a farm in Vermont and make artisanal goat cheese.
Mr. and Mrs. Mangiamelli added five new stores, then sold the Pietro's chain to a consortium from Arizona. They live in Palm Springs, California. I have visited them a few times. The food is still excellent. And my Italian is getting better.
Hilary Kolbuzcewski, alias Scorpio, was mugged in a Days Inn parking lot after a gig in Melbourne, Florida with his lounge band, Hilly and the Velvetones. Attackers broke most of his fingers and various bones both hands. Police never found the perpetrators, saying the crime looked "professional." Unable to play guitar, he moved back home and now works at Wal-Mart in frozen foods.
Cuh-cuh finally met the girl of his dreams, well into his forties. His new wife calls him Howard.
Elmo died after a year on the job as a firefighter while rescuing an infant from a blazing building.
I am still drumming, off the road, playing sessions only. My wife, two children and I live in Santa Monica, California.
Anita Mangiamelli moved to New York and became an interior designer. Did I ever see her again?
That, dear readers, is another story. Perhaps I'll relate it someday.