by Jo Smith
We clink our glasses and the noise echoes round the restaurant.
'To the birthday girl. May your boobs stay pert until you're at least thirty-five.' I wink and we drink.
Josie leans across the table, looking around. 'There's nobody else here.' She turns to Jenny.
'It's a good job you booked,' she says, her voice heavy with sarcasm.
Jenny lifts her hands in protest. 'Roberto told me it's the most popular restaurant in Agerola.
How was I supposed to know nobody eats out on a Monday evening?'
Josie reaches for the wine and spills droplets on the table as she pours. She begins to giggle and I join in.
'How about ringing Roberto?' I say. 'He can come and join in the fun.'
'Ooh, yes.' Jenny rummages in her bag for her phone. 'He's got a brother as well.'
Josie and I listen as Jenny speaks in rapid Italian, but the wine clouds my understanding.
Jenny hangs up and announces that Roberto will be with us in five minutes along with his brother, Mauro.
'Good,' says Josie and waves the empty wine bottle at the waiter.
'He keeps staring at us,' I say.
'Let him,' Josie shrugs.
'He's creepy. He looks like Eddie Munster.'
The door rattles and Roberto and Mauro walk in, ducking under the low wooden beams.
There are cries of 'ciao bella' and kisses all round. A minute later the candles flicker again as a third man enters and Roberto introduces him as Salvatore, a friend who makes his living from lemons.
'I like lemons,' I say.
'Ah, then you must come to my house, I give you Limoncello.' Salvatore leans close to me
and I smell lemon on his skin.
The boys join us for dinner. They insist on buying our meal and make sure our glasses are
never empty. Salvatore doesn't leave my side and I edge my chair away slightly. Josie and Jenny are oblivious. Josie manages to cover the table with red wine and Jenny snorts with laughter. The waiter rushes over with a cloth while Josie jabs Mauro's chest to drive home her point. I have no idea what her point is and I seriously doubt she does either.
Salvatore stands up and we all turn our heads to look at him. 'I think we go for a drive now,' he says.
I have the vague feeling that I would rather go back to the hotel, but Josie thinks a drive is just what we need and her enthusiasm steam rolls over my qualms.
The fresh air hits me and I sway into Salvatore, who props me up and steers me toward a battered van. He is driving before I realise I'm alone and Jenny and Josie are ahead in Roberto's car.
'Where are we going?'
Salvatore pats my leg. 'It's a surprise.'
I grip the door handle and fix my gaze on Roberto's car. I can see Josie leaning forward,
talking animatedly, Jenny interjecting with helpful vocabulary. They swing from side to side as the car follows the twists in the road.
I check my seat belt and notice that Salvatore isn't wearing his. He lights a cigarette and in doing so takes both hands off the wheel. The van veers to the left and I breathe in sharply.
'Don't worry.' Salvatore grins. 'I know these roads since I was a child.'
I nod, unable to speak. Then, without warning he swerves off the road and bumps down a
rough track. I look over my shoulder at the main road.
'What are you doing? The others have gone straight on.'
'Sure. We make a stop.'
I can just make out a small garage at the end of the track and as Salvatore drives closer, a path leading around the back. Salvatore pushes a button on his keyring and the door opens. We drive in, he cuts the engine and I immediately unclip my seatbelt and open the door. I feel his hand on my arm, gently restraining me.
'Please,' I say. 'I want to find my friends.'
He smiles, then gets out of the van. I try to think rationally. If I run, he will catch me, but if I stay... I swivel round and don't see him. Decision made, I jump down from my seat and rush
outside. I stumble on the grass, curse my heels, but keep going.
Behind me I hear an engine start up. I take off my shoes and begin to run, but headlights
appear out of the darkness and the spotlight is on me. My heart hammers in my chest and I can't breathe. I can see the main road and know I won't make it.
Salvatore catches me up, but he is no longer driving the van. He leans over and opens the passenger door.
'What are you doing?' He frowns. 'I wanted to show you my baby. When I found out your
name, I knew I must introduce you. Joanna, this is Joanna.'
'A car?' I say in high-pitched incredulity. 'You just wanted to show me a car?'
'Not any car. A 1964 Fiat 500.'
I fold my arms and glare at Salvatore. He beams back at me, his teeth as white as his
precious car, and gestures to me to get in. I huff and slide in beside him. Looking round at the Fiat I understand his pride. It looks as though it should be in a museum and I run my hand over the wooden dashboard and admire the cream and red interior. I reach for my seat belt and Salvatore lets out a shout of laughter when I realise there isn't one. There's a twinkle in his eye as he promises to drive carefully and my resolve cracks. Josie and Jenny tell me they heard laughing before they heard the car.
All rights are retained by the author.
(And this is one of our winners!)
(And this is one of our winners!)
I'm sorry about the lack of indents. I tried several things and have no clue how to format this so blogger will do what I'm trying to do. However - what do you think of the icon Joyce, my web designer, made for the winners? That only took her a couple of minutes. Winners Jo, Peggy, and Don may display it on their blogs, websites, or anywhere they can imagine. Congratulations again, Jo!