I won third place at the 2002 Modesto Junior College “Celebration of the Humanities” contest with this story.
I think love is real and true when all those cheesy love songs on adult contemporary radio begin to make sense. My name is Francesca Miller. I am the product of an American fighting man and an attractive Italian-American. I’m twenty-four years old. I want to tell you a story about the One.
I first remembered Giovanni Paretti when his little brother Joey and my little brother Anthony met in choir class. The drama teacher at school had decided to do the musical, Picnic. That’s where their friendship grew and I got to know of Joey. Then I put two and two together. I realized that he was related to Giovanni and that Giovanni had been a teacher’s assistant in my sophomore English class. He was a senior at the time.
I did that whole turbulent “I’m stupid, fat, and ugly” teenage crisis during my freshman year. It didn’t take me too long to get over myself and grow up. During my second year in high school, I felt remotely self-assured and confident enough to stand on my own two feet, doing whatever puts a smile on my pretty face. Lucky (as people at school nicknamed him) never really stood out to me; he blended in with the woodwork. I mean that in the nicest way possible, of course. He was attractive, but not something I’d typically pursue. He was one of those clean-cut, friendly, easygoing, helpers of old ladies to cross crowded streets, and feed the homeless type of guy. I’m usually infatuated with a more streetwise kind of guy if you know what I mean.
My mother adored Lucky for all those good reasons, as all concerned mothers would since I couldn’t stop talking about him to her. Speaking of my family, although my parents are divorced, I have that stereotyped “one big happy family.” Mom remarried a couple of years after she and Daddy’s marriage dissolved, but they remain friends to this day. Mama married the coolest stepfather on this side of the moon whom they call Franklin McDonald. Together they had fraternal twins (my little half brother and sister) Bryan and Jamie-Lynn. Frank’s from Louisiana and still has a hint of his accent from his boyhood.
Daddy married a tall, young, blonde trophy wife just about the time Mom got hitched. Her name is Andrea Barnett. Andi’s a real nice lady though, don’t get me wrong. She always bought me nice dresses. Tony told me the other day that one of his earliest memories of Andi was that she would give him Matchbox cars when we would go over to visit them. I also liked the fact that she indisputably liked us and always treated us like grownups. Andi can’t have kids (she had a tubal ligation done when she was in junior college), which pissed me off more than Daddy. It would’ve been nice to have a little brother or sister to come home to his house.
All my life, I had my destiny planned out and wasn’t going to let anything get in my stubborn way. Go to college, get my bachelor’s in photography, get married to the One, have the 3.5 kids, the sociable Golden retriever named Old Yeller, and that white picket fence of the illogical American Dream. But there’s always something. Lucky re-entered my life and screwed me up faster than crack for a tried-and-true rock star. I saw a picture of Lucky on the wall of his house and I felt a stab in my heart of something I had never felt before. I couldn’t describe it then, and certainly not now, even if I wanted to.
You might be wondering why I was at Lucky’s house, to begin with. Joey was throwing a cast party for the people in Picnic. I was in the chorus. I saw Lucky only once that night, though I knew he was in the kitchen the whole time. It was a cold night in the city and my dirty dreams explained my unabashed lust for Lucky. So to try to keep my mind off of him and the way he made me feel I amused myself with other boys. It was a challenging feat, pushing those inevitable thoughts of Lucky from my mind.
To further drive my insanity, I went to the mall with my girlfriends and went into one of those stores that catered exclusively to teen girls (or people who aspired to be them). I purchased a silver necklace with a single silver star. “To remind me of Lucky,” I assured them confidently, draping it around my neck, moments after I had purchased it. “Why?” one asked, taking the bait. “Guys are like stars; there are millions of them out there but only one can make your dreams come true.” I still have that necklace.
I was watching a weathered copy of “‘Till There Was You” for the ten millionth time since I had taped it off of HBO. Andi promised to buy me the DVD. She knew how much I loved that movie. I like to think it explains that even from childhood, God has a master plan for soul mates. I was laughing out loud at the part when Nick’s model nearly knocked out Gwen when I heard the doorbell ring. The pillow I had been holding onto for support returned to the couch as I made my way to the front hall, throwing open the pristine white door. Lucky’s familiar boy next door smile greeted me. My first reaction was to gasp like a fool, which I did.
“Hi Franny,” he said, using my family nickname. Everybody else called me Fran.
“Oh come in,” I offered him, trying to play it cool, faintly remembering that I was wearing old sweats and a worn pink camisole, my teeth were in desperate need of a good brushing, and my hair reeked and needed to be washed. “I wasn’t expecting anyone today,” I added, noticing he was trying not to look at my unkempt appearance.
“I just wanted to see how you were doing,” he said, pulling off his authentic smelly leather jacket to hang on the coat rack Frank kept in the foyer.
“I’m watching movies. The kids had sports and the parental units had to run errands,” I offered, leading him to our TV room.
Moments passed in the next five minutes that felt like an eternity. “Um, why are you here?” I asked bluntly, in an effort to break the silence.
Lucky leaned in close to me, locking his eyes onto mine. I couldn’t help myself. I melted right then and there into a wonderful Francesca puddle.
“I was just thinking about you, that’s all. Can’t I see you whenever I want?” he whispered. I could smell his cologne and feel his hot Listerine breath on my cheeks. Then he grinned playfully and pulled away before the sexual tension between us became too unbearable (at least for me). As we were watching the movie, I watched him from the corner of my eye. Lucky laughed in all the right places and I picked up on his nervous habit. In case you wanted to know, it’s playing with the diamond stud in his right ear. The movie ended and I absently scratched my head, as I moved to shut off the TV with the remote.
“Can I wash your hair?” he asked innocently, twirling a strand of my hair with his right index finger.
“Excuse me?” I asked, slightly aghast and somewhat turned on, “Is this some sort of sick, a twisted fetish that I wasn’t previously informed of?” I hoped he would get the joke because I swear that was so un-Francesca of me to say.
He laughed a deep, throaty laugh that I haven’t heard since. “No. I used to wash hair at the retirement home I volunteered in my junior year. And besides, I only say it when I mean it,” he replied, brushing my hair aside to bring his lips close to my neck. I thought he was going to kiss me, but he didn’t. A current sizzled through my body as I murmured, “okay.”
We set up a chair in the bathroom that I shared with my brothers and sister and I gave him my regular shampoo to use. “Lean back,” he commanded softly. I don’t know about you, but I love it when people touch my hair a certain way, give my head a massage, or give me a shampoo. It tickles me, at least without getting into the much more graphic, smutty words that could be substituted for “tickle.”
He turned on the warm water and massaged my head, making sure every inch of my head was soaking wet. Then he began to shampoo my hair. I began to buck in spite of myself because it excited the loins of my very stimulated and aroused teenaged body. Lucky merely laughed.
“Down girl,” he joked lightly. Finally, he had to straddle me to calm me down. It helped a little.
Then he rinsed the shampoo from my hair. Instinctively I held onto his body. “Ooh, that’s how I like it,” Lucky groaned teasingly.
I smacked him on the arm playfully, and with his hands carefully massaging the suds from my hair, he tilted in closer to whisper in my ear, “maybe later.”
With my dripping wet hair, Lucky dried the thick strands of hair. It was all over much too soon, and I was thinking of a clever way to ask him to stay longer, but then he made up some pathetic excuse, saying he had to pick up Joey and Albert (the other Paretti brother) from traveling soccer practice. So I let him disappear without putting up a fight. All he did was leave me confused.
There was no one else in the world that I wanted to be with more than Lucky. I knew that he was meant for me, the way that poets have said in ballads since the beginning of time. I knew that I loved him liked a heroine in a romantic comedy that loved the hero. But this boy who I had my eye on in my pre-Lucky days, Edward Watson, began to talk and flirt with me. I thought he liked my best friend’s sister Kylie, but maybe he was only being friendly and didn’t want to choose between us. Whatever the reason, we had fun together.
With Lucky pre-occupying every single one of my mortal thoughts, it surprised me that I was even able to carry on a coherent conversation with someone who wasn’t Lucky. My roving eye, the one that searched endlessly for Lucky, scarcely paid attention to Ed while we talked. Later on, I felt this overwhelming sense of muckiness because of the terrible way I must have treated him. Sometimes I don’t see the ultimate repercussions of my actions unless I dwell on them in the most indiscriminate places, like while I’m cleaning out my closet, or while I’m taking a shower, or when I’m folding laundry. I also have the amazing ability to forget trivial events in which I was hurt. I think I do it to protect myself, to fake myself into believing I’m infinite.
Tony is failing Geometry; I’m failing Pre-Calc. But the funny thing is Jamie Lynn and Bryan are truly accomplished in math. I think they got it from Frank. He’s a brilliant mathematician. Dad and Andi are in Hong Kong this week. Andi promised to buy Tony a genuine Hong Kong crafted watch. She also said she’d buy me a pair of Prada platforms. In any case, I knew I needed help with math, so I swallowed my pride and went to Pre-Calc tutoring after school. I was practically struck dumb when I saw Lucky that day.
I was hurrying like crazy to pick up Bryan from soccer practice and Jamie Lynn from voice lessons, so when I heard his beautiful voice call out, “hi Franny!”, I jumped a mile. Lucky leaned in for a hug before I could do anything more.
“Hi Lucky, what are you doing here?” I asked, trying to calm down and mentally punching myself in the head for not asking the brightest question ever.
“My brothers need a ride home that’s all. I thought I’d risk the chance of seeing you, and what can I say? They don’t call me Lucky for nothing!” he joked.
“I guess so!” I replied, my heart sailing at the response.
“Hey, your eighteenth birthday was last week right?” he asked.
I nodded my head, surprised that he had remembered. “Happy birthday,” he said, whipping his hand from behind his back. He was holding a small yellow daisy and I was absolutely floored.
“Thank you!” I breathed, grasping the flower gently in my trembling hands, sniffing it briefly.
“Listen, what are you doing Friday night?” he asked before I could ask him anything more brilliant from my paralyzed mind. I was supposed to go to the movies with my family, but Lucky didn’t have to know that.
“Nothing really,” I replied quickly.
“Come over at seven. I’ve got something special planned and I was waiting for a moment you were free. Consider it a belated birthday present. Just for the two of us,” he added. Those last six words were the most beautiful ones ever spoken in the English language. They echoed in my jumbled wits like a bell tolling a church bell tower.
“Okay,” I squeaked, nearly catatonic.
“Okay?” he echoed, just to make sure.
All I could do was nod my head.
“Good,” he finished, leaning in. All my bodily functions ceased. The world around us stopped spinning for the split second as his lips inched closer and closer to mine. Electricity crackled through my body as I eagerly anticipated the union of our lips together as one.
“Yo Lucky!” a familiar and obnoxious voice interrupted. Without missing a beat, Lucky pulled away and slapped a high five with Joey. Albert was walking out of the nearby band hall and joined us within a matter of moments.
“Hey! Ready to go?” Lucky asked them coolly.
I lost fifty pounds exhaling all the air pent up in my lungs, but at least my body was jolted into reflexive movements again. Before anything more embarrassing could happen, I peeked at my watch.
“I gotta go! Jamie Lynn and Bryan are waiting for me! Bye!” I blurted out, practically flying away.
“Don’t do it Lucky,” Albert warned, as they watched me run to my car in the nearly empty school parking lot. I waved one last time before I started the car and raced out of there.
Lucky waved back and glared at his little brother. “You should mind your own business. This girl is really special, kid. Don’t worry about it,” Lucky said darkly. I didn’t know about this conversation until much later.
In a brand-new beautiful black Chinese cheongsam and matching bag that Andi sent to be paired with a killer pair of those Prada platforms she promised, I rang the doorbell to Lucky’s house promptly at seven. In his typical casual Abercrombie and Fitch style, Lucky’s trusty smile greeted me. I took a mental picture of him standing there and filed it away in my memories for later. “Come in bella,” he said coyly. As he shut the door behind me, I looked around wondering what it was he had planned. Lucky crept up and slipped a black silk blindfold over my eyes. My hands reached up and held loosely onto his wrist.
“Shhh,” he said in a register lower than usual. “I won’t let anything hurt you.” And I believed him with all of my being.
He sat me down on the linoleum floor of the kitchen. It smelled like warm cinnamon cookies and lemon dishwashing liquid. Lucky guided a strawberry dipped in whipped cream to my lips.
“Tell me the first thing you think of when you taste that,” he asked gently.
“It’s sweet, silky, smooth,” I replied softly.
“Lots like you,” he commented.
I grinned. That night was one I’ll never be able to forget. He fed me samples of all sorts of sinful foods. A bit of blueberry cheesecake, a spoonful of vanilla ice cream drenched in chocolate sauce, a French bonbon, pieces of Swiss chocolate, a piece of the aforementioned cinnamon cookies, and more. You know that old cliché ‘the way to a man’s heart is through a stomach’? That night, I knew it was meant for women too. No more than an hour later, he finally pulled off the blindfold. As my eyes adjusted to the soft candlelight, I took in Lucky’s thousand-kilowatt smile.
“Oh Lucky. You’re gonna have to roll me out of here,” I said happily.
“Really? I could do that,” he said lightly, screwing on the lid to the container of blueberries. Lucky scooted over to me, tipped my chin to his willing lips, and kissed me in a way that I’d only seen in movies. After he pulled away, I was ready to do anything he asked me to do. But he didn’t say another word. Lucky helped me up, handed me my purse, and walked me to my car. The entire point of that movie “Waiting to Exhale” is that the women exhale their breath as if they’d been holding it their whole lives when they think they’d found the One. I was only eighteen. I had my whole life looming ahead of me to exhale… and I did just then.
I didn’t see nor hear from Lucky for two weeks after my birthday celebration with him. I was photographing people on the street for my summer photography class when I saw him with the most beautiful woman. There’s no real way to describe an eye-catching female. If I were a guy, I’d probably be sleeping with her. What I’m really trying to say is that she was so stunningly gorgeous, people stopped in the street just to take a fleeting glance at her.
Lucky and Mystery Girl were holding hands, kissing, touching each other’s faces, doing those little things that people do to show they’re a couple. My heart sank into the lowest depths of hell. They never saw me though. She was about his age, maybe a little older, a sexy twenty-something with long, chestnut brown hair that reflected glints of blonde in the sun, a wholly unforgettable smile, legs that went on for days, and supermodel-like curves. The Gisele Bündchen clone was Italian as well, I could tell from a mile away. Butterflies flew frantically in my stomach and hot tears stung my eyes as they turned a corner and out of my life.
I never saw him again after that day, even though Joe and Tony remained friends even after they had graduated high school. So that brings this story to the present. My name is Francesca Miller. I am the product of a Navy sailor and a young Italian-American. I’m twenty-four years old. I moved from our little metropolis to New York City two years ago. My family of over-achievers is still going strong. Tony got a full ride to Stanford on a golf scholarship, Jamie Lynn and Bryan are just starting high school, and Mom and Frank are planning a cruise as their gift to themselves for raising us kids. Dad and Andi help pay rent for my apartment and they stay over sometimes when their travels bring them here. You might ask what became of the One. I saw him one last time… in Times Square.
I was leaving an associate’s photography studio near where MTV studios are situated. I was holding onto my fiancé Ed Watson’s skinny arm, laughing at one of our silly inside jokes. Lucky’s distinct and haunting voice entered my ears for the first time in six years and shook me to the very core as if an earthquake had taken over my body.
“Franny!” he called from behind me.
I turned around, knowing without a doubt in my mind who had garnered my attention. The beautiful girl I had seen him with years earlier and a little girl who looked a bit like her smiled very quietly, taking me in.
“Lucky! What are you doing here?” I asked, holding onto Ed’s arm a little tighter.
“Same ol’ Franny,” Lucky said knowingly. I realized that I always said the same thing like clockwork whenever I saw him.
“Oh! You are Francesca,” the Gisele Clone exclaimed as if she had known me in a past life. Lucky gestured to the Mystery Girl and the youngster.
“This is my wife Angelina and our daughter Maria,” he said, his voice reflecting a thick Italian accent that he had somehow gained in the six years since we had last spoken. My heart plummeted into my stomach. Before I could react to the news that was so evidently presented to me like plums on a plate, Angelina politely came forward to kiss my cheeks, which I returned courteously to her. And don’t think that ripping off her pretty little head in one fell swoop hadn’t crossed my mind as I did that.
“It’s good to see you again,” I offered him, my mind in a daze. From beside me, Ed coughed and covered his mouth. I suddenly remembered that he was there with me.
“This is my fiancé Ed Watson. We went to school together.”
Ed shook hands with Lucky politely, kissed Angelina’s cheek, and smiled at little Maria. I took into account that I had my camera in my Gucci shoulder bag.
I’m a photographer, it’s what I do, so I took it out and asked, “can I take your picture?” Lucky looked at Angelina who smiled and nodded her head. They posed like the beautiful, nuclear family that they were and I took one basic, black and white picture of them.
“Ciao, bella,” Lucky told me, signaling that they had to move on. Angelina kissed me goodbye and little Maria smiled shyly at Ed and me.
With one final look that Lucky and I shared, he knew that this was the final goodbye and that his overwhelming power over me would be canceled out with this farewell. Ed pulled me away, not noticing the glance. Lucky, Maria and Angelina continued on their way. But before Lucky and his family were out of my line of sight, I peeked over Ed’s shoulder. Lucky’s beautiful chocolate hair slowly began to melt into the busy New York crowd.
“What’s wrong?” Ed asked, kissing my cheek before hailing a cab.
“Just saying goodbye,” I replied, twirling a piece of hair with my right index finger. Ed knew that I had my secrets and he didn’t question me. As the vibrant New York streets whipped past my cab window, a quote I had read years before by an anonymous author came back to me and comforted me in my sadness.
“You never lose by loving, you always lose by holding back.”
I wiped an errant tear from my cheek and put my best game face on, as the cab screeched around a corner to take us back to my apartment. I had loved Giovanni Paretti with all my heart, and I knew that I became a better person because of it. Not many people can say that about their first love.
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