Faking smiles for people you loathe from the bottom of your heart must be the most difficult thing a person could do. And yet, here I was doing the exact same thing as I looked around at the ladies who went to high school with me. It wasn’t bad enough that I had to deal with these people in high school that even after I had repented for my sins—I had no idea what sins I committed but high school made me pay for it—and built a new life for myself that I had to deal with these same people again.
And the only one responsible for this torture was my so-called best friend.
Seriously, she knew how much I hated her pack of cheerleaders from high school, but she still had to rub them in my face. I have told her a thousand times that I was perfectly okay with not being invited to these parties of hers where all her cheerleader friends were present, but no, according to her, she could not have a fancy get together without me. I appreciated the fact that she always included me, believe me, I did, but spending time with these people was akin to losing my ability to think. Literally.
“Non posso aspettare la festa la prossima settimana,” Carina said, her red lips curved in an excited grin. Carina used to be the head cheerleader when we were in high school and even after graduation, she still believed herself to be the queen. (I cannot wait for the party next week)
I rolled my eyes at the fake enthusiasm and knew it was time for me to leave. Chiara could spend hours with these women but I could not. I had much more important things to do, like giving my brain cells some room to breathe and not kill them.
With a smile at Carina, I stood up and made my way to the kitchen where my best friend was preparing snacks for us. Chiara worked too hard for people who only seemed to look their noses down on her. According to the rest of these ladies, anyone who had been a cheerleader should not stoop to the level of the generic crowd. And Chiara only knew how much I wanted to punch these ladies for thinking like this.
“Bene, ora vado e ci ritroviamo un’altra volta,” I said to Chiara with an apologetic smile, knowing she was not going to be happy that I was bailing on her yet again. But I couldn’t help it, I could not stand these pompous ladies all in one room together. (Alright, I am going to go now and we’ll hangout some other time)
Chiara’s big brown eyes widened and she shook her head. “No, no, you are not going so soon. I just finished making the sandwiches.”
“I cannot stand those women, Chiara, you know that. And I stayed here for an hour like I promised. I have to go before my brain cells start leaking out from my ears.” I told her. She was well aware of my repulsion towards her gang of cheerleaders but that did not mean she liked it.
She sighed, loud and heavy, causing her dark bangs to go flying up before falling back down on her forehead. “Fine. But I am not happy about it. And you and I are definitely hanging out next week. But take these sandwiches, I don’t want you to starve.” She quickly put the sandwiches in a box and held it out for me to take.
“Starve? I know how to cook,” I said.
She rolled her eyes. “We both know how awful your cooking is. Trust me, you need the sandwiches,” she said, a note of finality in her words.
Knowing I had no choice in the matter, I took the box of sandwiches from her and carefully put it in my purse. Now I could go home and make some progress on my embroidery. It was a fairly big piece that I was currently working on and I wanted to finish it as soon as possible so I could move on to the next piece.
“Grazie. Ti vedrò la prossima settimana,” I said to her and with a small wave I left Chiara’s apartment and headed towards my own. (Thank you. I will see you next week)
Considering it was the weekend, I had time to indulge in my hobby and why not make it special with my favorite gelato, or maybe I could skip the gelato and just go straight home.
No, gelato was important and it was the weekend, I was allowed to enjoy myself. So with that thought in mind, I headed straight for my favorite gelato shop, hoping the place wasn’t too crowded as it was the weekend.
Upon arriving at Gelatoaza I took note of the amount of people currently enjoying themselves inside the shop. There were quite a few but not enough to make me feel uncomfortable. But I would still take my gelato to go.
With a smile I could barely prevent from spreading into a grin of excitement, I entered my favorite gelato shop and strode over to the counter to give my order.
“Ciao. Vorrei una grande tazza di stracciatella,” I said to the man working behind the counter. (Hello. I’d like a large cup of stracciatella)
The man smiled and quickly begun filling the cup with my favorite gelato. I watched, mesmerized, as he tactfully used a spade to scoop up the gelato and transfer it into the cup. He did that a couple of times until the cup was full and handed it to me. I quickly paid and walked out of the shop, eager to get home and enjoy my gelato, though I had a feeling I would end up finishing it long before I reached my apartment.
Spotting a bench around the corner, I quickly made my way over to it and sat down. I would finish my gelato here and then go home to work on my project, I decided before popping the first spoon of gelato in my mouth.
If I had not been sitting out in public I would’ve moaned loud enough for men to turn around and think of all sorts of dirty scenarios. But as it was I got no pleasure by enticing men by using gelato. So despite the sensational tango the gelato was dancing with my tastebuds was crazy enough to make me moan, I suppressed the pleasure and pretended that I was not in gelato heaven.
It didn’t take me long to finish the rest of my gelato after the first bite, which was kind of disappointing as I wanted the taste to last forever, but good things seldom did, so I had no choice but to discard the now empty cup in a nearby trash can and continue on my way home.
The shops around me littered with people, some entering, others leaving. A small group of women entered the nearby restaurant, probably for a late lunch since the sun was going to set in a couple of hours. Just looking at the women made me wish for my best friend but she was busy entertaining her cheerleading squad.
It was as if we were connected telepathically because no sooner had I thought of her that my phone buzzed, signaling the arrival of a text message.
I miss you :( — Chiara
Ditch them and come outside. I fired off a quick reply.
I wish. But you know these ladies. One wrong move and they are going to ruin me for the entire world — Chiara
You know you don’t have to put up with them. They can only do what you allow them to do to you.
No matter how many times I told her not to indulge those ladies, Chiara refused to listen. I did not understand what she was so afraid of. Those ladies were never going to accept her as one of them even though Chiara had been in the cheerleading squad for as long as any of them. But those women knew that Chiara was too soft, too kind and they took advantage of her and threatened to ruin her reputation if she dared to go against them. And the worst part was, my best friend refused to let me help her, saying that she could fight her own battles and if she really needed my help she would ask. But that never happened and was never going to.
I know, Nova. But you know they don’t make empty threats. All those poor, miserable girls in school were proof — Chiara
With a sigh of disappointment and a shake of my head, I slipped my phone in the pocket of my hoodie and continued walking. I had to do something about these women; they could not go around ruining other people’s lives for their own amusement. School was one thing, but even now when they were older they continued to bully everybody they could get their hands on.
It was utterly ridiculous.
Pushing all thoughts of the cheerleading squad to the back of my mind in order to deal with them later when I would have the time and patience I checked the time on my phone to see if I could take the bus or I needed to rush with a taxi. But I had some time to kill so the bus it was. The bus stop was a few miles and the weather was pleasant enough that I didn’t mind the walk.
“La mafia l’ha fatto. Si sono presi la responsabilità di uccidere quegli uomini,” I heard a man wearing a yellow shirt say to his friend, who seemed to be hanging on to every word the man uttered. (The mafia did it. They have taken responsibility for killing those men)
“Come possono farlo? La polizia deve arrestarli,” the yellow shirt’s friend stated with vehemence. (How can they do that? The police must arrest them)
“Pensi che la polizia non ci abbia provato? Non possono catturare la mafia. E ho sentito che alcuni ufficiali sono in combutta con la mafia,” yellow shirt responded. (You think the police have not tried? They cannot catch the mafia. And I heard that some of the officers are in league with the mafia)
A shiver of horror traveled the length of my body at the mention of the Mafia. To say I’ve heard horror stories about them would be an understatement. I had grown up fearing these criminals and had tried my keep my life as mafia free as possible. Those people had a way of invading your life in ways you couldn’t even imagine. And once they had you in their bloody clutches, there was no way you could get rid of them. Even though the mafia did not know of my existence, I was happy knowing I was free off the criminal world.
Not wanting to hear more of the mafia, I walked faster, putting the two men behind me, wanting to get home as soon as possible.
I did not know why I was so afraid of the mafia. Perhaps I took the stories of my childhood way too seriously, or maybe I was too sensitive to the darkness that surrounded this world, I was not sure. All I knew was that I did not like the criminal world and I wanted to stay as far away from it as possible. People might be curious enough to read conspiracy theories on the internet and come up with their own but I was not that person. I liked my safe, little world where the only thing I needed to worry about was my next embroidery project.
My phone buzzed once again. I pulled it to out to see another message from Chiara.
They finally left, phew! — Chiara
Good for you. I typed back.
She replied a second later. Go to the mall tomorrow?
Sure. I replied before pocketing my phone once again.
Looking up, I spotted the bus stop but it would take me a few minutes to reach. Blowing a sigh of relief, knowing I would be home soon, I begun walking towards my destination. Hopefully the bus would come quickly and I would not have to wait so long.
As I was walking, I saw a man standing by the lamp post scrolling through his phone without a care in the world. I was sure if somebody came and threw a shoe at him, he would not even notice.
I would’ve walked away had I not noticed the two men standing behind a wall that led into a dark alley, their eyes fixed on the man scrolling through his phone. The men were dressed in black, doing their best to remain hidden in the shadows, but they could not hide from me. Since their backs were to me, I could not see their faces.
The back of my neck prickled, a sure sign that danger was around me, and judging by the way those men in the alley were standing, I knew exactly who posed a threat to whom.
My suspicions morphed into horror as the man in the front pulled out a gun from the back of his shirt and pointed at the man who was lost in his phone.
No, this could not be possible. They would not shoot that man. He was innocent. I could tell he had not committed a crime because he was busy texting his friend instead of looking over his shoulder for his would-be killer. It would not be fair if the two criminals caught him by surprise. And considering the surprise was a bullet, the man would not be alive to figure out what went wrong.
No, I could not let him die like this. Think Nova, think!
But I did not get time to think. As the shooter cocked the hammer of the gun, I knew any second now he was going to shoot and kill the poor, innocent man unless I did something to prevent that.
Push him out of the way.
I would’ve grinned at the brilliant idea conjured by my subconscious had I not be stacking up on adrenaline, getting ready to do something I had never done before.
Stopping for a couple of seconds to get myself ready to run, I locked my eyes with my target and pushed my legs and ran forward.
The man fired soon after I started running. It was only a few seconds difference, but that was the difference between somebody’s life and somebody’s death.
It was the man’s life. And my death.
No sooner did I push the man away did I feel a searing pressure in my abdomen, as if somebody had hurled a rock at me. But it was no rock. No, it was far worse.
It was a bullet.
The force of it had me falling on the pavement, with my hand clutching my abdomen. Warm blood flowed in steady streams and I had gotten dizzy had it not been for the excruciating pain that erupted soon after.
“Son of a bitch!” I heard someone swear but I was fading fast.
I did not know what happened to the man I saved. Perhaps he made a run for it. But I was certain it was not the man who was stalking over to me now.
I saved a man’s life. But I did not expect to die in return. I thought. It should not hurt so much if you did something good.
The man stopped in front of me, just as a thick layer of dark fog clouded my vision, pulling me deep into the abyss of oblivion, along with my final thoughts; forcing me to say goodbye to the world I really wanted to be a part of.
People said being a hero was a good thing. They lied. The man standing in front of me with a smoking gun was proof of those lies.