Katerina

"I can't believe we're in fucking California!"

I roll my eyes and pull down my red and navy blue Phillies baseball cap to shield the sun out of my eyes. With the two tickets that my dad gave me as a graduation present, I decided to bring Kevin with me. Tony and Gus were both busy with work and I hadn't made any close friends in school.

Kevin and I are close in age and usually spend a lot of time together anyway.

"Do you want everyone to know that we're tourists?" I hiss at him.

We're walking down a long boardwalk, with surf shops and tiki bars on one side, and a large beautiful blue ocean on the other. I felt uncomfortable in my long jeans, converse sneakers and t-shirt. My whole image seemed out of place compared to the bikini clad women with the Daisy-duke shorts and crop tops. I didn't really have time to change since we just decided to drop our bags off at the hotel and do a little sight seeing.

"Cheer up, Kitty, I don't know why you're so upset about this trip in the first place."

I look up and over to my brother, who was almost half a foot taller than me, noticing his big smile and over sized sunglasses. He looks like such a Californian natural- the sunkissed skin, light brown hair, sunglasses, board shorts and tee shirt. He fit in perfectly with whole surfer boy image.

"I'm not upset. I just don't like the fact that dad spent so much money on these plane tickets- and oh the hotel is just so beautiful and expensive!"

"Kitty Kat, the Days Inn is not expensive. You're acting like we're staying at a five star resort. Dad just wanted to give you something nice because he knows how hard you worked these past few years. I mean, damn, you're the only one in the family that actually graduated college."

Sighing, I stop walking and lean against the wooden railing of the boardwalk, overlooking the ocean. Kevin was right, I worked hard and I busted my ass all through high school and college so that I could graduate early. I was always constantly hard on myself, but growing up the way I did... I couldn't blame myself.

I shut my eyes tightly and shake my head a little, "I want to have fun, but... I don't know. I feel like I should be out there looking for an internship or entry level job or something. I don't want to feel like I'm wasting my time on vacation."

"Listen, by the time we get back to Pennsylvania, I'm sure you're going to have job offers coming to you like crazy. Companies are always hiring accountants," he wraps an arm around my shoulders and pulls me into a hug, "Kitty, this is where mom grew up. We don't remember her, but after reading every letter from her, I feel like I know her. This is her hometown. This is where she grew up. Being here is... special."

"You're right," I whisper into his chest. In those few sentences, Kevin has convinced me that maybe this vacation isn't such a bad thing.


"For the rest of our vacation, we are definitely eating at McDonalds."

I'm looking up and down the menu of an elegant Italian restaurant. Kevin had insisted that we come here after discovering that his all time idol, Mauro Vivaldi, was the head chef and owner. The place was a couple blocks away from the hotel, and he persuaded me into allowing us to come.

"Sure, whatever, as long as I get to enjoy this meal and remember it for the rest of my life."

Boy, he was getting dramatic.

I pull down the length of my short black dress while shifting in my seat. I wasn't too fond or used to wearing dresses.

After we order the food, I notice the people sitting in the table behind Kevin. It's two men, both impeccably dressed in slacks, button down shirts and ties. By the looks of them, they're probably a couple years older than me and just came from some kind of office job. The guy on the left has hair sticking up from the front, black framed glasses and a goofy smile on his face as he sips on his drink.

The other guy, the one that primarily caught my attention, is leaning back in his seat. My heart stops beating for a moment and I tune out to whatever Kevin's saying. My eyes are on him as he rakes a hand through his dark, messy hair and listens intently on what his friend has to say. My curiosity travels down, passing the rugged and light layer of his facial hair, noticing the clenched muscle in his jaw, down to the way his tie is loosened around his neck and the few buttons on his shirt is undone.

After examining the rest of his laid back body, including the way the sleeves of his white buttoned down shirt hugs around his biceps, my eyes travel back up to his face. I almost jump out of my seat when I notice his dark eyes are staring at mine. I look away and return my attention back to Kevin as casually as I can. My face flushes and I clear my throat with a little cough. Stupid, Kat, real stupid. Gritting my teeth, I try to appear normal in front of my brother but I feel like banging my head on the table because of the embarrassment.

Our appetizer arrives faster than I expected. And as I try to strike up a conversation with my brother and chew on a piece of bruschetta, I can still feel that dark gaze on me.

We're midway through our meal when I feel his eyes leave my face. I pluck up my courage and chance a sneaky glance over to the other table. I take a sip of my water to hide any suspicion. Luckily, his attention was focused on his own food. His friend, the one with the glasses, is yapping away about something that seems way too much like gossip. He uses his hands to gesture a lot and I can immediately try to analyze what kind of friendship they share. Glasses guy is the goofy loud mouth, and Mr. Handsome is the broody, quiet one. I guess opposites do attract.

I tear my eyes away from their table before I can get caught again.

"How do you like the linguini?"

"It's great," I guarantee Kevin. I'm sure he's asking because I've been pushing the noodles around my plate for the past fifteen minutes, only taking a few bites.

"These mushrooms are so tender, you wouldn't believe it, Kat," he gushes, "You know how I always have a hard time making portabellos? Well this is definitely the right way to do it."

I take a sip of my water and notice that he has already devoured his grilled chicken and pasta. Looking down at my own plate, I decide that I'll have a better peace of mind if I just take the meal to-go and eat the rest back at the hotel. There's no way I can possibly enjoy this meal with so much tension between me and the mystery guy at the table near by.

"I hope you're enjoying the meal," I look up to the voice beside me. It's our waiter; a tall, Italian man dressed in the same black and white attire as the rest of the staff, his accent is thick. "Is there anything else I can get for you?"

"Actually, monsieur, can you please give my compliments to the chef? This is the best meal I have ever had the pleasure to eat. I'm curious to know how he managed to get the mushrooms so tender in the red wine sauce," Kevin explains, "But please, send my compliments over to him."

I chuckle to myself as I watch him ramble off to the waiter.

"Very well," the waiter smiles and leaves the table.

Seconds pass before the doors of the kitchen burst open, I do a double take as a huge Italian man dressed in a white chef's coat and hat comes stumbling out. He wears a mustache so thick that it covers his entire top lip.

"Where iz 'e?"

His Italian voice fills most of the dining area, but the other tables don't seem to notice or care, they must be regulars and used to him coming in and out. I glance over to Kevin and notice the star-struck look on his face. His mouth hangs open and his fork stops midair.

The man comes quickly to our table after the waiter points us out.

"Chef Vivaldi, it's an honor," Kevin greets as soon as he's close enough to hear.

The man's face is big and red and somehow, I can tell that he's smiling even though his mustache is in the way.

Vivaldi takes Kevin's hand in his own and shakes it vigorously, "Are you ze one that asked about ze mushrooms?" Kevin nods, and the man continues, "I have been cooking 'ere at my ristorante for 35 years no one 'as ever asked about my mushrooms."

"Chef, I am a huge fan of yours. I've read all your cookbooks, I've followed all of your directions… but the mushrooms, I've never been able to make them tender like this," Kevin gestured to the nearly empty plate in front of him.

"I can take you to ze kitchen and show you, if you would like."

My brother looks flabbergasted, "Are you serious?"

The older man nods, and his smile grows bigger on his wide face.

Kevin moves to stand up, "Are you okay with this Kat? I'm sure it'll just be a couple minutes." He has an eager, but desperate, look on his face. There was no way that I was going to be the reason for his disappointment.

I nod and that's when the chef notices me. His big eyes light up and he turns all his attention over to me.

"Ciao, buona sera," he takes my small hand and shakes it with his large one as he greets me.

"Piacere di conoscerti," I reply smoothly.

"Oh," he looks taken back, "Parli italiano?"

Nodding, I reply, confirming that I do speak Italian, "Sí."

"Porterò il tuo compagno torna in cinque minuti," he reassures me that he'll bring Kevin back in five minutes.

I smile, "Bene."

I can feel those dark eyes on me again and my face turns a light shade of pink before I even have the chance to look over and catch his gaze. I forget how to breathe for a second and take a sip of water to mask my slight embarrassment.

"Ricardo, please send over a dessert on my behalf," Vivaldi commands the waiter that was hanging behind the entire time.

Did someone say dessert?

Kevin beams at me before the three of them disappear behind the kitchen door. It takes me a few seconds to realize that I'm now left all alone at the table.

"So you speak Italian? I don't think I've ever seen Mauro that happy before."

I look up and see the guy with the dark rimmed glasses looking towards me.

"Um, yeah I speak Italian," I admit, shoving a piece of long dark hair behind my ear nervously. I don't have the courage to look across the table to see if mystery guy is looking at me. Instead I keep my eyes rooted on the quirky one.

"Impressive," he notes, "I'm Ted, by the way. This is Dash," he gestures to his friend across the table. I politely flick my attention to him before returning my gaze back to Ted.

"I'm Kat, nice to meet you... both of you."

"Well, Kat, I'm sorry that your date left a pretty girl like you all alone."

My cheeks burn, "Oh he's my brother, not my date. And Chef Vivaldi is an idol to him."

Ted nods, "So you're not from around here then? Everyone here knows Mauro. You guys must be from out of town."

"Yup," I reply. I try to keep my answers short and simple. I've seen enough mystery movies and detective shows to know how young women like me get kidnapped while in an unfamiliar place. I wasn't about to be one of those girls that stupidly tell a bunch of strangers a whole lot of information about myself.

"She's not interested, idiot," a deep voice cuts the silence.

My eyes widen for a second and I notice it's Dash.

Oh, so he speaks.

Ted throws him a frustrated glance, Dash shrugs his shoulders.

"We should get going," the broody one announces. He gets up from his seat and throws a few bills on the table. Like a magnet, my eyes are snapped back onto him and now I can actually see how tall he is. And boy, is he tall. Probably reaching a couple inches over six feet, his body is amazingly built but also very lean.

Snap out of it, Kat!

He's almost out of the restaurant when Ted gets up and walks closer to my table. He has an apologetic smile on his face.

"Sorry about him, he's had a tough day."

I crease my eyebrows together in confusion. Why was he apologizing and explaining this to me?

"It's fine," I shrug to make it seem like no big deal, but allow myself to keep the image of Dash's departing body in my mind.

"Anyway, I don't know if you're on vacation or you just moved out here, but," He digs into his jeans pocket and produces a small paper that resembles a business card. He hands it over to me, "There's this benefit party for the company I work for. You should stop by, there's great food, music and lots of people to mingle with. You can bring your brother to."

I look down at the card and notice four lines of neatly printed gold font.

Ashmore Investment Company
Benefit Dinner and Dance
4983 Oak Boulevard
5/30, 7:00 pm

"Oh, thank-"

When I look back up, I realize that I'm talking to myself because Ted is already gone and I'm left at the table all alone again.