“How’s Viola?” Franco Manetti asked his friend and partner of twelve years, Joe Martin, as he was getting ready to leave for the night.
Joe stopped writing his report to look at him, his expression was one of exasperation. “Why don’t you ask her out already?” he demanded. “You’re always asking about her and she’s always asking about you. You’re not dating anyone and she’s not dating anyone. Why don’t you two date each other? Look, the precinct is having its Christmas party is next month, why don’t you ask her to go with you?”
Franco considered his suggestion. “That’s a great idea,” he said. “Are you sure you don’t mind me asking your little sister out?”
Joe rolled his eyes. “If I minded you asking her out, would I be encouraging you to?”
Franco laughed. “I guess not. I’m sorry, pal. I just thought it might be awkward for your partner to be taking your sister out, that’s all. Well, have a good night. I’ll see you in the morning. Say hello to Dora for me.”
“You have yourself a good night too. By the way, Viola is coming over for dinner at our house tomorrow night. You’re welcome to drop by. You can ask her to the Christmas party then.”
“I can’t come by tomorrow, I’m afraid. I am having dinner over at my parents’ place. Could I call you instead and talk to Viola?”
“Sure. She’ll be there until ten.”
Franco pulled on his jacket and grabbed his keys. “‘Night, Joe.”
On his way home, Franco recalled the first time he met Viola. It was on a Tuesday, around noon. She came to the precinct to see Joe. They were going out for lunch. He was at his desk doing paperwork when she walked in. He looked up as she went over to where Joe sat. Joe was away from his desk.
Franco stared at her. She was dressed in a black pants suit over a red blouse and her hair was pulled back at the nape of her neck. For several minutes, he just sat there staring at her. She smiled and held out her hand. “Hi, I’m Viola, Joe’s sister. You must be Franco.”
He got up and shook her hand. “Pleased to meet you,” he managed to say. He waited for her to sit down in the chair beside Joe’s desk before resuming his seat.
“Joe has told me a lot about you,” she said. “You and he have been partners for a long time.”
“Yes, for twelve years.” He knew he was staring but he couldn’t help it. She was so beautiful.
“I remember when Joe joined the force our mother was terrified at first. She feared that he would get shot or killed but Dad encouraged her to have faith. He told her that Joe was serving God and his community. It took some time to convince her but now instead of worrying she prays a lot. What about you? Did your family have a problem with your choice of career?”
He shook his head. “My parents were just relieved that I wanted to be in law enforcement instead of ending up like some of the kids I used to hang out with in our old neighborhood.”
He wanted to ask her if she had a boyfriend. He could hear his mother saying to him, “I hope that before I die, you meet a nice Italian girl and marry her. Nearly all of your cousins are married and have children. Guido is married and has blessed your father and me with two grandchildren. Your little sister, Sophia is married. You’re the eldest and you’re still single. What are you waiting for?”
He noticed that Viola glanced at his hand to see if he was wearing wedding ring. Just then Joe returned to his desk.
“I see that you two have met,” he said with a smile. He grabbed his jacked and pulled it on. “Ready?” he asked Viola who was looking at Franco.
She glanced up at her brother and nodded. As she stood up, she turned to Franco who was on his feet, watching her. “It was nice meeting you,” she said, smiling at him. “I hope we see each other again.”
“Me too.” He watched her walk away, thinking he had just met his dream woman.
As he pulled into his parking space, Franco promised himself that he was going to ask her to have dinner with him on Saturday and then invite her to go with him to the Christmas party.
They were having dinner when out of the blue, his mother asked, “So, have you met a nice Italian girl as yet?”
Franco was about to lift the fork to his mouth but he paused to look over at his mother who was watching him very intently. “I met a nice girl, Mama,” he said quietly, “but, she’s not Italian.”
She wrinkled her brow. “She’s not Italian? What is she?”
“She’s Joe’s sister. You remember Joe. I’ve brought him here for dinner once before when his wife, Dora was visiting her parents in Florida.”
“Yes, I remember Joe,” his father said. “He’s a very nice guy.”
“How come you never mentioned his sister to me before?” Mrs. Manetti asked.
“I did. I told you about the time when she and I first met.”
“Oh yes, but that was last year. You mean to tell me you haven’t been dating anyone since then?”
“No. After meeting her, I don’t want to date anyone else.” He glanced at his watch. It was eight-thirty.
“Why do you keep looking at your watch?” his mother asked irritably. “Are you going somewhere after you leave here?”
He shook his head. “No, Mama. I’m going straight home after I leave here.”
“Why do you keep looking at your watch, then?” she insisted.
“Oh, Carmela, leave the boy alone,” Mr. Manetti snapped. “If he wants to look at his watch, that’s his business.”
“If you must know, Mama, promised Joe that I would call over at his house tonight.”
“Oh. Eat your spaghetti before it gets cold.”
It was nine o’clock by the time, they finished eating and he helped to clear the table. He excused himself and went down into the basement to make the call. Joe answered. They spoke for a while and then he went to call Viola. Franco’s heart began to pound. He was really nervous now. When he heard her voice, his heart leapt in his chest. “Hello, Viola,” he said, sounding a bit breathless. “How are you? Good. I’m fine too. I—I was wondering if you would have dinner with me on Saturday evening. You would? That’s great. I’ll pick you up at seven. Sure, I’ll take down your address. Just hold on while I find something to write on.” He put the receiver gently on the sofa and got up.
He looked around wildly for some paper and a pen. He saw an old newspaper on the coffee table and a pen beside it. It was opened to the Crossword section. Dad, he thought, with a grin. He tore a piece of paper and grabbed the pen. He hurried back to the phone. “Sorry about that,” he apologized. He wrote down her telephone number and address and put the piece of paper in the breast pocket of his shirt. “I’ll see you on Saturday.” He sat down in the sofa and talked with her for a while before he said, “Good night, Viola,” and hung up.
His parents were in the living-room. His father was watching TV in his favorite chair while his mother was on the sofa mending his shirt. She glanced up when Franco entered the room. “How is Joe?” she asked.
“You were on the phone for a long time.” She looked at him, suspicious. “Are you sure it was Joe you were talking to all this time?”
“Carmela, leave the boy alone.”
Mrs. Manetti clucked her tongue and continued mending the shirt.
Franco sat down on the sofa beside her and spent an hour with them before he left.
“Viola told me that you invited her out for dinner tomorrow night,” Joe said to him the next morning as soon as he sat down at his desk.
“Yes, I did. I wanted to go out with her before the Christmas Party.”
“Good for you.”
Franco smiled and got to work, although every now and then his mind went on Viola. He couldn’t wait to see her the following night.
He took her to the River Café, nestled under the Brooklyn Bridge with stunning views of the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty. They got a table beside a window where she could see the East River. For the appetizer, they both had the summer salad and for the main course, she had the Organic Chicken while he opted for the Lamb. And for dessert, they shared the Chocolate Brooklyn Bridge. The conversation between was easy and they felt very comfortable with each other. He learned that she was a Community Outreach Coordinator at a government agency in the Bronx and that she was bullied in high-school because of her weight.
“I was overweight,” she said. “I ate a lot of junk food and spent most of my time sitting around the house, reading or watching TV. I wasn’t active except when I was doing gym at school. So, I was teased at school because of my weight and height. I didn’t fit in with the other girls who were tall and skinny. In grade ten, I decided that I wasn’t going to change my habits. I stopped eating unhealthy foods, went on a diet and walked home from school instead of taking the bus. It worked. I dropped to and maintained a weight that worked for me. As you can see, I’m not skinny but I’m not overweight either.”
He looked at her. “I think you’re beautiful,” he said.
She smiled, feeling a little shy. “Thank you.”
“We are having our annual Christmas party on December 16 and I was wondering if you would like to go with me.”
“Yes, I’d like that.”
After dinner, they went for a walk, enjoying the warm night air and the views of the bridge over the River. Then, it was time to take her home. When they were standing outside of her condo in Queens, he said to her, “I had a great time tonight with you. Viola, I really, really like you and I want to be in a relationship with you. Do you feel the same way about me?”
She nodded. “Yes, I do, Franco.”
He smiled, looking relieved. “Good. I’ll call you tomorrow. Goodnight.”
He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. She watched him as he walked away, her pulse racing and her heart pounding. Things were really looking up now.
They began dating and by the time the Christmas party rolled around, things had gotten very serious between them. He took her to meet his parents one Sunday afternoon. Viola was nervous about meeting his mother. Mr. Manetti was very warm and friendly. At first, Mrs. Manetti didn’t say much. She was busy sizing her up. Then, when the men went out into the backyard, leaving the two of them in the living-room, Mrs. Manetti cleared her throat.
“Come and sit beside me,” she said, patting the empty seat on the sofa.
Viola went over and sat down next to her, trying to act calm when there were butterflies in her stomach. She turned to look at the older woman who was studying her with those sharp eyes of hers.
“I had my reservations when Franco told me about you,” she began. “I wanted him to find and settle down with a good Italian woman because my other two children married outside of their culture. Franco is my first born. He will always have a special place in my heart. I want him to be happy. And I can see that he is very happy because of you. I can tell that you love him and I know that he loves you. So, you’re not Italian but as long as you’re good for my Franco, that’s all that matters.”
Viola breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Mrs. Manetti. It means a lot to me that you feel this way.”
“Good.” Mrs. Manetti smiled and patted her hand. “Now, why don’t I cut you a nice big slice of cake? I baked it just this morning.”
When Franco and his father joined them a while later, they were chatting as if they had known each other for years. “It looks like you’ve won over my mother,” he said when they were alone.
“Yes. She’s a wonderful woman who wants what’s best for her son.”
He reached for her hands and held them, his expression serious as he gazed down into her face. “You’re the best thing that has ever happened to me. I love you, Viola.”
“I love you too.”
“Marry me,” he said as he released one of her hands to reach into his pants pocket for the box. Then, he got down on his knee and opened the box to show her the engagement ring. She gasped when she saw it. It was an elegant 3 carat oval shaped diamond.
“Yes, I will marry you,” she replied, her eyes wide and watery. She watched as he put it on her finger and then he was on his feet. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her.
A short while later, he announced their engagement to his parents. “This calls for a celebration,” Mr. Manetti said and he disappeared into the kitchen. He was back with a tray four glasses and a bottle of wine. After he filled each glass he raised his in a toast. “To Franco and Viola,” he said.
They all raised their glasses in merriment. And in Spring of the following year, Franco and Viola got married at her family’s church and had the reception at Prince George Ballroom. It was a glorious night. “We never thought we would see Franco settle down,” Guido said to her, laughing.
Sophia said to her, “It’s good to see Franco so happy. I wish you two a lifetime of happiness.”
“Happy?” Franco asked as Viola and he danced.
“Very,” she replied.
He smiled and then twirled her around the dance floor as his mother watched them, happy to see that her son had finally found and married a nice girl.
Sources: River Cafe; Marisa Perry; Prince George Ballroom