Sunday was a long day after being up a good chunk of the night finishing off the latest The Thousand Words submission. I spent the day in the office working on post-processing the latest batch of photographs. Most would be used as plain stock images, but I had a few decent photos of the downtown riverfront under a blanket of fog that should be usable for some fine art prints. The post-processing work for a photograph usually takes at least an hour of work and a couple of test prints to know whether or not it is suitable for large-scale viewing and display. Jane came in for a few hours later in the afternoon to help with a few miscellaneous things. We both left around six at night.
After leaving, I headed over to Kelsey’s apartment. She lived in a two bedroom apartment up from where I lived in Montgomery. It was decorated in a very soothing low country beach style. Nice subtle green and blue colors, all appearing to be different shades of sea glass. Even though there were paintings of the beach, jars of seashells she had picked up on various trips and other nautical themed knick-knacks, it wasn’t too much and definitely not tacky as you often see in beach rentals. It was cozy. A great place to relax. That’s why we ended up there the majority of the time versus my utilitarian bachelor style small house.
We saw each other at least a few times each week when neither one of us had evening work. Since it was during the standard work week and we had no other plans for the night besides being together, Kelsey thought it was a good idea to have Bruno, my dad’s old partner, over for dinner. I agreed even though it meant not being alone with her. She had met him a ton of times over the past six months at various functions as well as going out for dinner or drinks. They both seemed to enjoy each other’s company, but this was the first time it was just the three of us together for a casual dinner and a time for more personal conversation.
Kelsey had made a seafood paella we all demolished along with a nice bottle of wine while sitting in the dining area. Even though the meal was seafood based, we had a full-bodied Spanish red. I cook simply for fuel. Kelsey cooks because she loves to. Big difference in the end results. We sat around the table chatting.
“So how exactly did the two of you meet?” Kelsey asked Bruno. She knew the answer, but I guessed she was making him feel at ease and giving him an opportunity to talk about something. The other option, she was fact-checking my version.
“Unfortunately, I have known Alex for all of his life,” Bruno said.
I just sat there silently. It was going to be one of those nights. Not much I could do other than going along for the ride.
“Alex’s dad Henry and I went to the academy together,” he continued. “We started off as rivals trying to be the top of the class. Nothing mean or combative, just competitive. There was no hatred at all. We just never talked about anything other than class and tried like hell to outdo each other. He didn’t care about making any friends and was only interested in the academy classes. Right near the end, my father got really sick and I was having a hard time with the coursework. Without being asked, Henry helped me out and made sure I made it through with flying colors. Challenging each other made us simply better. When I couldn’t keep up due to my dad, he helped me out instead of just finding someone else. I guess somewhere early along he decided I was his friend and we were until the day he was shot and killed along with Hannah.”
I was always amazed at how matter of factly Bruno and other cops could so plainly and bluntly talk about death. When it’s a part of your job it must come easily. Kelsey could be the same way with her job at the hospital.
“After Henry passed away, I kept in contact with Alex over there to make sure he didn’t screw up his life. You know how he can be. Besides I have to throw some work his way to make sure he doesn’t starve while he plays around outside and takes pretty pictures.”
“You think my photographs are pretty?” I asked sarcastically.
Bruno completely ignored me like I wasn’t even there. “By the way, dinner was fantastic. I agree with Alex here. You are a wonderful cook.” Bruno got up and started moving the plates over to the kitchen counter. Kelsey started to stir and Bruno held his hand up to stop her. “Don’t you even think about moving. Not sure why I am doing this anyway. Alex, get off your ass and do this.”
I took his actions as my cue to clean up the table, put away the what there was of leftovers, and wash the pots and pans. The kitchen wasn’t very big. We would just be in each other’s way. Bruno sat back down and gave Kelsey a quick wink for both of our benefits. She smiled and tried to look anywhere but at me, not wanting to give up their back and forth at my expense.
In reality, Bruno and I had a good relationship. Part friend. Part father figure. No actual blood relation but he felt like family. The absolute best kind of family there is. He would never say it. Never in a million years. Giving me grief at every possible opportunity is his way of showing affection. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember.
“What’s it like being a nurse at the children’s hospital?” Bruno asked Kelsey.
“It’s a dream job for me,” she answered. “I get to work with these incredible children all day, every day. They are just so unbelievable and strong I can’t describe it. With all of the adversity they have faced at such young ages, they hit their illnesses head-on with such positivity. It blows my mind. There are obviously some sad days. Some very sad days. But the good days easily make up for it.”
Kelsey is a rock when it comes to her emotions. She is always happy sometimes to the point of wondering what she uses to enhance her coffee. There are a few days, however, when one of her patients passes where she needs time to get back to being herself. Sometimes we go our separate ways for a night and other times she just wants to curl up on the couch and be held. Like clockwork though, she is back to her normal self the next morning.
I finished cleaning up the kitchen and delayed the dishwasher to run through the night. All of the pans were clean and in the drying rack. Leftovers were put away in a few different containers making it easy for either one of us to reheat at work. I headed back in, refilling everyone’s glass, hoping to be a part of the conversation or at least try and steer the subject away from making fun of me.
Right as I was about to sit down, they decided to move into the living room directly off of the kitchen. Bruno settled down on one end of the couch. Kelsey sat down on the other end curling her legs underneath her. I took the oversized chair across from them. “So Bruno,” Kelsey started. “Alex tells me you are, as he says, very Italian. Were you born there?”
He shakes his head and laughs a bit under his breath. “Actually, no. I was born here so I am a natural born citizen but my parents liked to boast I was conceived in Italy before they moved over in the nineteen-sixties. They were only here six months before I was born so no reason to doubt the story. I have no idea why they settled here in Cincinnati. Cleveland has a much larger Italian community, but they ended up here and seemed to really like it. I tried asking my father about it but he never said more than ten words at a time so I never got the full story. He was a great and caring person, but simply never said much. He passed right after I had completed the academy and my mother died a year after, so I never got much of a chance to talk about it.”
Bruno went quiet. He was lost in some mix of happy and melancholy thoughts from long ago. After a minute he continued. “Figured me being Italian is not much of a surprise to anyone. One look at me and it should be obvious. When I was growing up we spoke Italian at home so I still carry the accent. Not to mention a name like Brunello Gillen is also a dead giveaway.”
“So your first name is Brunello?” Kelsey’s face lit up like it does when she is truly happy. “Like the wine?”
“That’s what everyone thinks,” Bruno replied. “It’s also a much easier way to explain it, so that’s what I tell everyone. Actually, my mother was an Italian literary teacher before and after moving here. One of her favorite works was Orlando innamorato. It’s a monumental poem written way back in the late fourteen-hundreds by an Italian Renaissance author named Matteo Maria Boiardo.” I noticed his accent was making an appearance as it often did when he was talking about anything Italian. Most other times it was hardly noticeable. “One of the characters in the poem is named Brunello. He’s a devious and clever thief who, for whatever reason, my mother loved so she named their only son after him. Although, I do believe it being a great Italian wine helped the decision some.”
“I love it!” Kelsey almost shrieked. She was to the point of being giddy with happiness. I had a soft spot to be with her when she was this happy which, the truth be told, was the vast majority of the time. With a big toothy smile, she asked, “Do I get to call you Brunello?”
Bruno sat motionlessly for a moment. A wry smile slowly developed across his face. “For you, anytime.”
“What? No way! You told me no one ever called you by your full name except your late mother,” I exclaimed. “The last time I tried calling you Brunello you hit me. Hard.” I was not happy but also not surprised at all. I figured Bruno would like Kelsey very much and vice versa.
“You deserved it, Alex. And don’t think about trying it again.” Bruno had his serious cop face on that intimidated the crap out of me since I first met him.
“Maybe if you were as cute as me he would let you.” Kelsey tipped her wine glass toward Bruno and winked at him.
Bruno returned the favor on both and added, “Probably not.” He got up and walked over to the kitchen to refill his empty wine glass.
Kelsey mouthed to me quietly, “I really like him. I really like him a lot.”
Maybe getting the two of them together frequently in an informal setting like this wasn’t such a good idea.