I took the subway downtown and practically ran all the way to Nick’s restaurant, anxious to see him. I stopped outside the building and took a deep breath before entering Il Sogno di Nicholas Ristorante.
The smell of fresh bread baking in the oven hit me the minute I entered, and the garlicky aroma of tomato sauce I knew so well, spiraled up my nose. Nick’s restaurant provided the same sense of comfort as my parents’ place. Nick was unaware anyone had entered. Or maybe it was because he stood deeply entrenched in a conversation with his redheaded fiancé, whose curvaceous body reduced mine to chopped liver. I had an all right figure, but I could see there was something special about this broad. To begin with, she was a lot taller than my five foot six height. Standing next to Nick, I figured her to be at least five foot eleven. Red curls peeked out beneath the barrette she wore to hold her hair in an upsweep. My curls were the kind people joked about asking if I’d put my finger in an electric socket, and the reason I let my hair grow so long. I was hoping it would weigh them down, but it did no such thing. So we were partially even on that score. But she had Nick, and I didn’t, and I was convinced it would take more than the fluttering of my lashes over my baby blues to negate the situation.
Nick had a huge smile on his face. Under normal circumstances, this would have sent chills down my spine, but this time his smile was for her. The giddy feeling I’d experienced on my ride into Manhattan nosedived like a plane making an unexpected crash landing. I tried to force the green-eyed monster from my head and recalled the way things used to be. But with the redhead in the picture, I’d be nothing more than a backdrop.
I cleared my throat to get his attention, but it went unnoticed. I hated to admit that Maureen was gorgeous, but hey, maybe she wasn’t a nice person. I concluded I could come up with all kinds of stuff to make me feel better.
In the past, Nick’s suave approach with women often made me laugh because I knew each one was only a passing fancy for him. He went through girls like I went through chewing gum. This appeared serious to me as I looked on with envy. Maureen dripped with confidence, while mine was diminishing at a steady rate. I lowered my eyes trying to see if she had a ring on her finger, but it was bare. But then, the only jewelry allowed in the kitchen was a simple gold band. Anxiety raced through me as I stood trance-like wondering how to handle seeing him committed to another woman. I hadn’t given that much thought up until now.
Maureen poked him when she saw me, nodding in my direction. Nick’s six foot two frame turned to look in my direction. His handsome face broke into a broad smile exposing his perfect teeth. I stared back into his eyes, but oh my God, they were still the deepest jade green I’d ever seen. And every time I looked at him, it felt like the first time I’d ever noticed their memorizing effect. Needless to say, he made my heart jog out of control.
“Nicky!” I rushed toward him with open arms.
“Ellana!” He wrapped his arms around me, and lifted me up off the floor in a tight bear hug while Maureen watched. I wallowed in his bittersweet hold. Overwrought with emotion I blinked back the tears begging to erupt.
Maureen watched us with a curious eye, and I thought I saw froth coming from her mouth—totally wishful thinking on my part.
“I am so glad you’re home, sweetheart.”
“Me too, Nicky.”
He placed me back down on my feet and his arm eased its way around my waist, sending shivers down my spine.
“Maureen,” he turned and smiled at me, “I’d like you to meet my very best friend in the world, Ellana Licari. She’s the sister I never had.” His smile changed to a frown when he noticed my tears. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
“Nothing. I’m just happy to see you.” How could I tell him the truth? I felt sickened over Maureen claiming what I considered to be rightfully mine.
“Aww, me too! He kissed my cheek, and used his thumb to dry the tears from my lashes. “You are so cute.”
His loving expression made my heart melt like chocolate on a hot day . . . until the sister stuff registered. It jerked me back to reality so fast it felt like I’d been submerged into a bucket of ice water. In the good news department though, I had a resurgence of will to fight for what I viewed as mine.
“We were born on the same day,” he continued telling Maureen, “within minutes of each other. Right, Sunshine?” he said over his shoulder. A toothy grin on his face.
“So I’ve been told.”
Maureen’s expression relaxed as she reached over to shake my hand. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Ellana, and quite surprised Nicky hasn’t mentioned you before.”
Whoa, talk about a zinger, the Irish girl was lashing out.
“Sure, I have,” he defended, “I guess those dreamy eyes of yours were too busy looking deeply into my soul to pay attention to what I’ve been saying,” he flirted. Maureen giggled like a schoolgirl. And me? I wanted to vomit.