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Read the First Chapter of Our Lady of the Roses

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Chapter 1

He looks like a gnocchi. That was my first thought when this pale, doughy guy entered my salon and spa, La Bella Figura, on that Wednesday in mid-May and schlepped over to the reception desk. The schedule book lay open in front of me, and the big black Xs marking the days of my upcoming vacation now looked like the Xs found on a bottle of poison now. Anne McMaster, my best friend, moments ago had called to say that she had to back out of our girl’s getaway because of the chicken pox—not hers, but Gerry, her husband’s. She’s a nurse. You’d think she would have inoculated him or something before they got married. What kind of crappy luck is that? Not only for him, but for me. After all that I’d been through, I needed this break and was looking forward to the change of scenery and forgetting everything. I had juggled the staff’s schedule so that I could be off for two whole weeks. Anne and I had been headed to San Francisco for a ten-day tour that included the wine country—that was until Gerry screwed everything up. 

“A pox on your house!” I shouted into the phone when Gerry wrested it away from Anne and asked if I’d like to come over and give him an oatmeal bath to quell his itching. I loved Gerry, everyone did. He was handsome, fun, and generous, but I felt like laying the malocchio, the Italian evil eye curse, on him for ruining my trip.

Now the days in the appointment book stretched out in empty half-hour blocks of oblivion. I had nowhere to go and nothing to look forward to. No vacation. No men. No wine. No nothing. My therapist, Dr. Lichtner, a woman who is so low-key that I find myself babbling when I’m in her presence just to fill the empty silences, said to expect highs and lows. I was still waiting on the highs because for the last few months, my life has been bumping along the gutter like a Brunswick bowling ball.

“Can I help you?” I said to the gnocchi.

“I’m Bob. Bob White.”

I stared dumbfounded. Did he just say his name is Blob White? He is a gnocchi!

“Bob White,” he repeated until I snapped out of my stupefaction.

I ran my index finger down the page. Chirelle, my nail girl, had given me a manicure and nail art of wine bottles on each of my index fingers. I wanted to cry. Now, I’ll be sitting at home drinking with my special manicure and no one will see it. 

Bob White. Isn’t that the name of a bird or something? Who names their kid such a boring name? I was used to names like Ludovico, Fiore, and Enzo. Not Bob.

“I have an appointment for three o’clock,” he said.

I looked up at him and his eyes were riveted on the wall behind my desk. “Your clock’s wrong.”

“What?” I glanced over my shoulder at the clock and then at my iPhone lying on the desk. I pointed at the phone’s screen, tapping my wine-bottle-decorated nail on my phone’s screen like a smart ass. “No, it says three, and that’s what my phone’s showing too.” 

“No, it’s not the time that’s wrong; it’s the Roman numerals. Four in Roman numerals is not IIII. It’s IV.”

I turned and looked at the clock again. It said IIII. Damn, he was right. I’d tastefully decorated the salon in a Tuscan décor, yellow ochre stucco walls, lots of wrought iron, fake columns with busts of men who I thought looked a little like Tony Bennett if he’d been encased in plaster. The place looked like the inside of The Olive Garden but with hair, nail, and spa treatment rooms. 

“Ha, I never noticed that before,” I said. “And I’m Roman too. Well, technically I’m American, but my parents came from Roma.” I liked to say “Roma” because it made me feel like Sophia Loren, my idol.

He sighed, his droopy dumpling face falling even more, making me feel worse, so I quickly checked the appointment book. “Yep, Connie DePasquale and B. White. Couple’s massage—tans, the works.” I looked 

up. “Your goombah, Connie, running late?”

He lowered his eyes and mumbled. “She’s not coming.” 

What? Now I remembered Connie. She had called to book the appointment and insisted that it had to be today. I repeatedly explained to her that I would be the only one in the salon as I had given the other aestheticians the afternoon off as they would be covering for me while I was on vacation, and she insisted that it was no problem. 

I was going to chew him out for messing up my afternoon, but then I thought that by the way he looked, maybe Connie died or something, so I took pity on him. “I can reschedule,” I said, sweetly, sliding my finger down the boxes of empty appointment slots that my vacation had deteriorated into.

“No need. We broke up.”

He looked so pitiful and forlorn, I swear he should have had a rain cloud hanging over his head like a cartoon character. 

“Oh, sorry. I know how that is,” I said. 

He shoved his hands into the pockets of his khaki shorts that had so many pouches attached to the butt and down the side of the legs, it looked as though he could carry all his worldly possessions in them. “Yeah, we were supposed to leave for Italy on Saturday. I have business in Rome. I met her in an Italian language class. I thought things were going well . . . That we were . . .” He shrugged.

I felt sorry for the poor linfa. “She must be crazy to pass up a chance to go to Rome with you.” I lied. I own a salon; I have to lie. How am I supposed to be honest with people when you have old women coming in who want hairstyles that went out with pink sponge rollers? You lie to make people happy. You tell them they look good, and it makes them happy. And most importantly, they keep booking appointments. The Rome part was true though. I didn’t know about him, but I’d go the Rome with Satan if he asked me. “I love Roma,” I said, bubbling over like the Trevi Fountain. “I’ve been there four times. You ever been there?”

He shook his head no. 

“It’s indescribable. The history. The food. The wine.” The men! Italian men were so handsome, but I didn’t say that. He didn’t need to be diminished any further by comparing him to Italian men. My mama often said I needed a husband from the Old Country. She wasn’t right on much, but I was beginning to think she had a point. I’d had enough bad experiences with men from this country, that maybe it was time to try my luck on another continent and go abroad to find a man. Although if my father was any example of Old Country men, I’ll pass.

“Next time you go? It’ll be with the woman you love. You watch,” I said, pointing at him the way my Uncle Vito used to do when the Steelers would break a huddle, and he’d predict that they were going to pass the ball. 

“Everything’s a mess now.” He shook his head. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I was counting on her to help with the language and the Italian customs and stuff. It was her idea that we come here. She said Italians have style, and that I needed some.” He took a half step away from the desk and spread his arms as if he wanted me to appraise his appearance. He was tall and fair with wavy, out-of-control strawberry blond hair, green eyes, and freckles. He didn’t have a bad face—just too much of it. He reminded me of Chris Pratt during his Parks and Recreation days, before he got ripped and became a superhero. If this guy lost fifteen pounds, it would add some angles to his cheeks, define his jawline, and deflate the beginning of a paunch that protruded under the gray Steelers T-shirt whose vinyl emblem was scaly and peeling as if it had leprosy. His big feet were clad in black rubber thongs and he desperately needed some spiffing up. He looked like a high school linebacker who had gone soft with too much beer in college.

“I always say the best revenge is looking good!” I slammed my hands on the desk. “Your ex paid in advance for everything. Might as well screw Connie and give you the works.”

“Aw, I don’t know. I usually get my hair buzzed at one of those walk-in salons. She made me grow it out so it could be,” he rolled his eyes, “styled.”

“To hell with her.” I rose from the chair. “We’re spending all her money, and when I get through with you, you are going to be so hot that little Miss Connie’s going to be crying her eyes out that she gave you the old heave ho.”

But little did I know, as I was leading him back to the salon chair that this would be the beginning of the biggest makeover of my life.