Ask Me if I'm Happy Excerpt #2 (Chapter Four)
“Wow. You weren’t kidding, were you?” Emily took a small sip of cappuccino and sighed.
“It is as I told you, eh?”
“Proprio così.” As Emily looked around the bar, she felt a small smile blossoming. “This place is positively charming, too. How did you find it?”
“I told you before,” he said in a bad imitation of an American accent, “‘Bologna is my town.’ I know where everything is here.”
“Sì.” He nodded, raising his eyebrows a notch too high. “Veramente.”
“So you’re a professional tour guide, then?”
“No. I spend a lot of time in the University Quartiere.”
“You’re a teacher’s assistant?”
“No…” He stirred his caffè macchiato idly, shaking his head.
“Well, a student, then. You don’t seem old enough to be un professore.”
“Don’t I?” He leaned forward and the small table jostled between them, the cups clinking in their saucers. “Look closer.”
It felt like a dare, a childish challenge, so she leaned nearer too. Her courage faltered after a moment, but only after she’d noted the laugh lines around his eyes and the few gray strands in his hair.
“Don’t fall for it,” Jacopo’s voice scolded at once, almost making her flinch. “Kill time with him if you must, but for Heaven’s sake, don’t let this go any further.”
She pulled off another piece of her brioche and popped it in her mouth to keep from thinking about the hint of woodsmoke and earth in Davide’s cologne.
“There’s something I’d like to ask you,” she said before she could lose her nerve.
“Che cos’è?” He was running a finger over a lacquered-over message someone had scratched into the surface of the table.
“On the train this morning—you were watching me, weren’t you?” She laughed nervously and shook her head, blushed and looked away. “I’m sorry. You know, right when I said it, I realized how...”
“Sì,” he interrupted softly. “I was watching you on the train, but there is a simple explanation.”
“And what might that be?”
“Well, I confess: at first, I saw you across from me on the train, and I thought, ‘What a lovely woman she is’.”
Facing him once again, she chuckled in spite of her embarrassment. “Oh, please; I saw so many stylish, elegant women on that train. I’m not like that.”
“I saw the magazine you were reading,” he said, as if that would explain everything.
“Yes…?” she encouraged with her hands, drawing him forward.
“Well, then I thought, ‘She’s intelligent as well. That’s wonderful.’ So I couldn’t take my eyes off you.”
Emily laughed more freely, waving her hand, shooing his words away. “Oh, please…”
“No, è vero, è vero,” he laughed too. “But there’s more, of course.”
“Oh, really? Okay, what is it?”
Smiling, he nervously busied himself with brushing up the crumbs of his brioche. “I saw you with your magazine and then… I saw the article you were reading with so much interest.”
“You could see which article I was reading?”
“You’d read it, too?”
“Sì, sì. Many times, in fact.”
“Imagine that… I would never have guessed something like that would catch your attention.” A wave of relief washed over her, now that the mystery of his “attraction” was solved. “You know, I thought the article was very interesting, but I’m not sure I completely understood it. My Italian isn’t perfect and there were some rather abstract concepts and complex language in it…” She trailed off, a realization dawning. “Oh, lord… ‘Davide Magnani’.” She put her hand to her forehead, embarrassed. “You wrote it, didn’t you? That’s why your name rang a little bell in the deep, dark recesses of my mind.”
“Sì, I did. It’s just that other thing I do when I’m not teaching or speaking to educational conferences in Padova…”
“Amazing… I mean, what are the odds of reading an article and having the author sitting right across from you on the train like some average Joe? Or, in this case, like some average Giuseppe?”
He chuckled. “I would think that the odds are probably quite small.”
“So you were in Padova for a conference, then?”
“Sì, I was there for a sort of…come si dice—‘workshop’, for professors and enthusiasts of modern literature. I spoke about the article, explained my theory, that sort of thing.”
“How interesting. I wish I could have heard it, too.”
He laughed loudly before covering his mouth with his hand, abashed.
“What?” she asked, puzzled. “What was so funny about what I said?”
“I’m sorry. You must understand, though, that I’m not used to such politeness. Most people are not interested in what I talk about, except for my fellows and the students who are obligated to take my course to gain their degrees at university.”
“Okay, but I was reading it, wasn’t I? Wouldn’t that indicate a sincere interest?”
He shrugged modestly, a faint pinkness shading his cheeks. “We all read the magazines in the doctor’s office, whether we have an interest in fashion and gossip or not.” He looked around the bar, his smile still pulling at his mouth when he faced her again. “Emily, tell me the truth: would you really be interested in the speech I gave?”
“I would, yes. I really would.”
“Then I have something else you might enjoy equally. Come with me. We’re nearly there, anyway.” He stood and hoisted his knapsack over his shoulder while she got her coat and shoulder bag.
“You’ll see. Come.” He held the door for her and once again they braved the February cold.
_Excerpt from Ask Me if I'm Happy by Kimberly Menozzi
(c) Kimberly Menozzi/Good to Go Press
(c) Kimberly Menozzi/Good to Go Press