I WISH I HAD MAGICAL POWERS
I hear the front door open, then listen as my sister Mackenzie tries to be quiet when she enters our apartment. The loud squeak of the hinges causes her to fail miserably. I roll over in bed and look at the clock. It’s early, not even five in the morning. I don’t know where she stayed last night, but I do know it wasn’t here. I also know that if I ask her where she was all night, she won’t tell me. She never tells me anything anymore, which is annoying as hell and highly frustrating. There was a time when we shared everything with each other, a time when both my sisters, Mac and Fawn, shared everything with me. That all changed around Halloween, when Fawn started dating her boyfriend, Levi. I don’t know why things changed then, but I know they did. I roll back over and close my eyes, ignoring her as she comes into the bedroom and fumbles around in the dark. I keep ignoring her as her bed squeaks as she gets into it. I hear her move around some more like she can’t get comfortable.
“Lib, are you up?” she whispers into the dark. I hold back a sigh of frustration. I’ve always had a problem getting back to sleep once I’m awake.
“Maybe,” I whisper back.
“What?” I sit up and flip on my lamp, blinking as my eyes adjust to the light.
“Tony had a heart attack,” she repeats.
My heart sinks. Tony is the owner of Tony’s Pizzeria, just a couple of blocks from our apartment. When I moved to New York City to go to school six years ago, Tony’s Pizzeria was the first place that felt a little like home. The first time I walked into the shop, Tony welcomed me with open arms. Every time after that, he greeted me like he had known me my whole life, like I was a part of his family. He was always there with a warm smile and friendly hug.
Tony’s has become the place I go when I need a moment to think or someone to talk to—that someone being Tony’s wife, Martina, a woman I have come to care for deeply. She’s always, but always, given me her time, her ear, and her advice. She and her husband are two of the kindest people I know. They remind me of my parents in a lot of ways. Tony has a warmth about him, and Martina is sweet to the bone and generous with advice. Even when advice is not exactly what you’re looking for.
“When . . . ? Is . . . is he okay? Is Martina okay?”
“It was a few days ago. He’s okay. He had surgery. Antonio said he’ll be starting physical therapy soon. Martina is with him.”
Of course she’s with him. Martina is always at her husband’s side; where he goes, she goes.
“Oh god,” I whisper. “Who’s running the shop?” If Tony just had a heart attack, he can’t run it; Martina can’t because she won’t leave her husband’s side. And Antonio? Well, Antonio, their only son, already has a full-time job as a firefighter—and he hates the pizzeria. I can’t imagine him wanting to run the shop for his parents.
“Antonio’s been taking care of things,” she says.
I shake my head. Martina told me a while back, when I asked why Antonio didn’t work at the shop, that Antonio resented the pizzeria, that he felt like the business was slowly killing his dad. I’m sure his father having a heart attack has only made him hate the place even more now.
“He’s struggling, so I’m going to try and help out when I can.” Her words pull me from my thoughts. I look over at her once more.
“I’ll help, too,” I say instantly. It might be awkward, though, since I’ve had a crush on Antonio for three years and he doesn’t seem to like me much. Every time I’ve been around him, he’s growled or glared at me for whatever reason. Personally, I think he is a jerk—a hot jerk, but a jerk all the same. Still, I adore his parents and wouldn’t be able to look at myself in the mirror if I didn’t at least try to help them out in some way while they are dealing with such a difficult situation.
“I know Martina will appreciate that,” she says.
I notice that her eyes are tired and her face is red, like she’s been crying. I want to ask her what’s wrong, but I fight the urge, turn the light back off, and lie down. I’m not a heartless cow; I’ve tried talking to Mackenzie until I’m blue in the face, but no matter what I say or do, she refuses to open up to me. As the baby of the family, I’m used to people . . . well . . . babying me. Still, it’s frustrating when it happens. I might be younger than my sisters, but I’m a grown woman who has the ability to think, give advice, and help out when needed. I wish they would see that.
Twenty minutes later, with sleep evading me and Mac snoring softly, I get out of bed and head for the bathroom to get ready for work. Once I’m out of the shower, I wrap myself in my robe and go through my morning routine. I recurl my dark-brown hair, pulling the top of it back away from my face with bobby pins and spraying enough hair spray to hold it throughout the day. Then I put on a full face of makeup, including a deep-red lipstick. I leave the bathroom quietly to get dressed in the living room, where I keep my wardrobe. Our apartment is tiny. The bedroom is just big enough for our twin beds, Mac’s dresser, and our shared nightstand. The living room and small kitchen are separated by a wall with a cutout. Our couch sits under that opening, and our flat-screen TV hangs on the opposite wall, over a small black entertainment stand. My wardrobe is where the dining room table would be if we had one. Thank god we don’t, and I say that because I have an obsession with buying clothes, bags, and shoes. As it is, my bed is hiked up off the floor so that I have room to store my seasonal clothing in three plastic totes beneath it. After rummaging through my stuff, I settle on a pair of navy-blue wool slacks with a wide leg and a high waist, and a navy silk blouse with white polka dots. I pair these with navy-blue Mary Janes that have a wide, three-inch stacked heel. After getting dressed, I make myself a bowl of Frosted Flakes that I eat while leaning against the counter and scrolling through my phone for a flower shop near my job. I finish my cereal, rinse my bowl, and wipe down the counters before grabbing my black wool trench coat, my Coach purse—a gift from my parents when I turned twenty-one—and my keys. Not in the mood to take the train, I catch a cab to work.
I let myself into the Madison Avenue salon a little before eight and lock the door behind me. Palo, the owner, won’t be here for another hour or two, depending on his client schedule, and everyone else won’t be in until closer to opening. Two months ago, Palo promoted me to assistant manager. It’s my job to get things ready in the mornings, like starting the wax machines, making sure all the supplies are stocked, and letting in the cleaning crew.
Palo’s is one of the top-rated salons in the city, not only because some of the most talented people in the industry work here but because the space screams luxury. Before you even enter the shop, you know you’re going to get first-class service . . . just because of the Madison Avenue location. When you enter the salon, you see that the entire space is open, so clients can watch others get their hair or makeup done from one of the black leather couches in the front. We have one makeup station, which is mine, and six stylist stations. All the stations have white leather chairs in front of floating glass shelves and standing mirrors with black frames. There is no art on the walls, because who needs art when you’re creating it? At least that’s what Palo says. Personally, I would love to see some color around here.
I’ve worked at Palo’s for three years. I started as an apprentice right after I graduated from Aveda, which is, in my opinion, one of the best cosmetology schools in the world. My goal was to do theatrical makeup on Broadway or for one of the morning shows that tape in New York City. But since starting at the salon, I haven’t attempted to do either of those things; honestly, I don’t know if makeup and hair is what I want to do forever. I used to think it was. I always assumed that because I loved makeup and hair, I would love being a stylist for a living. Now . . . I’m not so sure. I like my job. I’m really good at it, the money is great, and I’ve made some amazing friends along the way, but I don’t feel fulfilled anymore. I feel like I’m missing something, only I’m too scared to figure out what that something is.
Shoving away that depressing realization, I walk across the black marble floors to the office, take off my coat, and stow my bag before clocking in and getting to work.
More than nine hours later, my feet are tired, my head is throbbing from inhaling hair products all day, and my stomach is grumbling from not having had time to eat lunch. I head into the hospital and try to focus on sending a text to my sister Fawn to let her know I’ll see her later tonight. My sisters and I have plans to go to an art show in SoHo, where one of Fawn’s friend’s pieces will be on display. It’s not something I’m really looking forward to after being on my feet all day, but I miss my sisters. It will be worth it to spend some time with them. I take the elevator up to the third floor, then follow the directions the lady at the front desk gave me. My shoes click-clack loudly, the sound bouncing off the walls with each and every step. Shifting my purse and the huge bouquet of lilies and roses I’m holding in my arms, I scan each room number until I finally reach the one I’ve been looking for. I shift the bouquet again, then reach for the handle of the door just as it begins to swing open. As I look over the top of the flowers, a familiar set of dark-brown eyes lock with mine. My heart starts to race.
Antonio’s rough voice greets me with the annoying nickname he uses for me. He crowds my space, forcing me to shuffle back to avoid being pressed against him. (I totally don’t want that.) Once I’m standing in the middle of the empty hall a few feet from him, he closes the door behind him. He crosses his arms over his chest and plants his boot-covered feet wide apart. Lowering the flowers so I can see him, I wish—not for the first time—that I had magical powers to make him seem grotesque. Unfortunately, I don’t have those powers. He only seems to become more handsome each time I see him. His dark hair is lazily styled in a way that makes it look like he just ran his fingers through it, and his olive skin that’s not even been kissed by the sun is a gift from the Italian blood flowing through his veins. He has cut cheekbones, a strong square jaw, full lips, and dark eyes surrounded by thick, dark lashes. Last but totally not least, there’s his body—tall, lean, and powerful. I hate him . . . Or I really wish I could hate him.
“Dad can’t have flowers,” he states, moving his eyes from me to the bouquet I’m holding.
My stomach drops.
“Can’t have flowers. He just had surgery, so they don’t want flowers in his room.”
“Oh.” I look from him to the flowers, feeling disappointed. I should have asked before I bought them. I just thought anyone staying in a cold, sterile hospital deserved to have flowers to look at. “I’ll—”
He cuts me off. “I’ll take them to the house.”
My eyes go back to his, and I could swear I catch a flash of regret. I know I imagine it, though. He’s never, not ever, nice to me. Why would he regret being mean now?
“Mom will enjoy looking at them when she’s home.”
He’s right. His mom will enjoy them. She loves flowers, and I know this because even though their house doesn’t have much green space, she plants flowers every spring in the hanging baskets outside their windows and in big pots on either side of her front door. She even has flowers outside the pizza shop in one of the big planters near the street, which on other blocks are normally collecting a fair amount of garbage from passersby.
“Thanks.” I bite my lip as I hold out the flowers toward him. His eyes drop to my mouth and turn angry as he takes them. His angry looks really don’t surprise me anymore. While I’ve been lusting over him, wishing I could hate him, he’s been doing a really great job of hating me. I don’t know what I did to make him dislike me as much as he does, but there is no denying he totally dislikes me.
“You gonna go in and visit?”
“Yes,” I answer, but I don’t move. I don’t move because he looks tired, actually exhausted. I can see that he’s trying to hold himself together and stay strong for his parents.
“Are you okay?” I ask softly, taking a step toward him. Without thinking, I rest my hand on his upper arm. His eyes drop to my hand, then shoot up to mine. Releasing him when I see the look in his eyes, I brace myself. Good thing I do, since the next words that come out of his mouth feel like a punch to the gut.
“My dad had a heart attack, he had surgery, he can’t work, I gotta run the shop, and Mom’s a mess. How do you think I’m doing?” he replies in a clipped tone.
I take a step back and pull in a deep breath so I don’t do something stupid like cry in front of him.
“Why”—I pull in another breath through my nose, fighting back the sting of tears—“why are you always such a jerk to me?” I hold up my hand to cut him off when I see his mouth open. “Never mind. I don’t care.” I turn away from him, put my hand on the door handle, push down, and walk into the room without knocking. I close the door behind me.
When I step into the room, the sight that greets me makes my stomach twist. Tony is lying in the hospital bed asleep, looking pale and thin. Martina is sitting in a chair next to his bed, holding his hand, with her head bowed and her eyes closed.
Seeing Tony in that bed and Martina at his side, a different kind of pain slithers through my chest.
Martina’s voice startles me, and I focus on her.
“Hey.” I step farther into the room and get close to her. I curve my hand around her shoulder, then bend at the waist to kiss her cheek.
“Cara.” She repeats the Italian word for “dear,” and my eyes start to sting again. I can hear the pain in her voice.
“How are you holding up?” I ask, leaning back to look at her.
Her eyes close as she shakes her head. When she opens up her eyes again, she turns her head toward Tony, who’s still asleep.
“Doctors say he’s gonna be okay, so I’ll be okay,” she answers.
My heart twists again. There is no doubt that she loves her husband, and I know that she loves him in a way that if, god forbid, he were to pass, she would follow behind him. That’s how strong their love is. I don’t think either of them would survive without the other. No way.
“I would have come sooner, but Mackenzie just told me this morning,” I say.
She lets out a long breath. Her eyes leave her husband and come back to me.
“I . . .” She takes a shaky breath, and tears fill her eyes. “I haven’t thought much about anything since he told me his chest was hurting him and I forced him to come to the hospital. I’m sorry I didn’t think to call.”
“Please don’t apologize,” I whisper, watching her eyes close. A single tear slides down her pale cheek. “It will be okay.” I take a seat in the empty chair next to her.
“I know, cara, I’m just worried not only about Tony but about Antonio. He’s been running himself ragged working at the shop—and he’s still going in to the firehouse. It’s too much for one person. I don’t know what to do.”
“He’ll be okay as long as you and Tony are okay,” I assure her, taking her hand and squeezing it. “I rearranged my hours at the salon today so I can help out at the shop for a few hours in the evenings, and Mackenzie said she’ll help out as well.”
“You’re a good girl.” She covers my hand with her own, giving it a squeeze. “One day Antonio will open his eyes and see that, too.”
Her statement doesn’t surprise me. She’s gotten it in her head that her son and I should be together. I used to tell her it’d never happen while secretly hoping it would. Now I don’t secretly wish for anything having to do with her son.
“You look pretty today. Did you do anything fun?”
“You work too much.”
This is spoken in a rough, low voice. My eyes fly to the bed. Tony’s tired eyes are open and on me.
“Hey, you.” I get up and walk around to the opposite side of the bed so I can lean over him and kiss his cheek. “How are you feeling?” I ask when I lean back.
He rolls his eyes. “I’m fine. Just wish everyone would stop worrying so much,” he says.
I smile softly.
“He wants to get out of here,” Martina says. My eyes go to her. “He keeps complaining to the doctors about how many tests they are running, how many drugs they are giving him, and how long he has to be here for.” She shakes her head.
“I should be allowed to leave when I want,” he grumbles.
“I think the doctors know what they’re doing. Maybe you should listen to them,” I suggest.
“You’re going,” Martina says firmly. Tony looks over at her. “If the doctors say you need to go, you’re going. End of discussion.” She slashes her hand in the air, and he sighs.
“A man should be allowed to make his own choices.”
“How about you focus on getting well?” I say.
He looks at me. “I don’t think I have a choice in the matter.”
“I think you’re right about that,” I agree. I swallow down a bubble of laughter when he directs an annoyed glare at his wife.
Yes, Tony and Martina love each other—but lord do they bicker all the time.
Hearing a knock at the door, I turn my head. A man wearing dark-blue scrubs comes into the room, pushing a wheelchair. He greets everyone with a smile.
“I’m here to take you for your ultrasound, Mr. Moretti.”
Tony grumbles, “Great, more tests.” He looks back at me. “Thank you for coming to see us.”
“Anytime.” I kiss his cheek again, then walk over to Martina, who’s now standing at the end of the bed.
Wrapping my arms around her, I give her a hug.
When I start to pull away, she tightens her hold on me and whispers in my ear, “Watch over Antonio for me.”
I nod my head, then hug her tighter.
“I’ll come visit again soon. You have my number. Let me know if you need anything.”
“I will, cara.” She kisses my cheek, then lets me go.
I take one more glance at them over my shoulder, giving them a wave before I leave the room. I wonder how hard it will be to keep my promise to Martina.