Chapter 1: The Silver Lining:
It's been a year since the loss of my first true love. The first time I ever felt love at first sight upon first meeting a woman. To this day, I'm still somewhat baffled as to how things were able to go the way it did without a hitch. Everything happened so fast that it almost felt like a modern day fairytale to me. I might never be able to comprehend how exactly that occurred, but then again, life is bulked out with mysteries, isn't it?
I've since called Mr. Malone back and told him that I unfortunately would not be able to maintain my job at the San Francisco Chronicle, to which he replied calmly and understandingly. I haven't told him the real reason behind it - in fact, I haven't told anyone about my adventures in California. But it's simply because I'm so emotionally troubled by my loss that I find it too painful to stand within San Francisco's city limits. Plus, I have come to discover that I quite frankly prefer small-town life over the hustle and bustle of big cities.
In the eternity since that fateful one-day trip, I've dated several women in hopes to combat my depression head-on. I've loved some of them more than others, but it was more of a "better than nothing" type of love. Not one of them got past the hand-holding phase with me, as we simply never clicked in the way I did with Katrina. Needless to say, I'm currently single and have made no other attempts to pair up again.
Today has been rather uneventful so far. I'm driving home after an equally uneventful shift at work, only to discover an unusual amount of traffic along the route I usually take back to Simmons Manor. Eventually, the traffic moves further enough so that I can identify the source of the commotion. It turns out to be a new Italian restaurant called Vicciotelli's built on one of our street-corners in the town square, currently in the midst of its grand opening. I've seen the construction of this place many times previously, but never made an effort to research what the end result would be.
Realizing that I haven't had any lunch yet, I decide to stop at the new place. Upon dropping my car off at the valet, the man at the reservation counter immediately recognizes me even though "vice-versa" does not apply. He signals to one of the waiters and I'm escorted in past the line that's wrapping around the block. For as long as I can remember, my family has had its own reserved table in every restaurant in Kicksburg. I guess I'm grateful for that privilege, but proud of it? Absolutely not.
As I browse the menu, I take a few looks around the dimly-lit interior. The goldenrod walls are covered almost completely with color, black-and-white, and sepia photos and paintings of what I assume to be previous generations of the owner's family. Right next to my table is a massive, framed photograph of much higher quality than the others, leading me to presume it's the most recent. To briefly sum up who's in it, picture 80s era Billy Joel, Stevie Nicks, and two Katrinas, who I presume are their daughters. I notice that one of the daughters has a distinctive pair of bright green eyes, which were easily Katrina's most striking feature, yet for some reason are not shared with anyone else in the photo. Oddly enough, her sister's eyes are a deep shade of violet, again an exclusive trait.
Up until this point, I dismissed the restaurant owner having the same last-name as my most treasured lover as a mere coincidence, though thanks to that picture, that belief has quickly been proven wrong. And my new belief only solidifies when the father walks over to my table, looking exactly as he does in the picture to my left, though this time in a traditional chef's outfit.
"Good afternoon, my friend! Welcome to my restaurant!" he says in a thick Italian accent as he shakes my hand. "My name is Alfonzo Vicciotelli, the owner and executive chef of this place, and I hope you enjoy what we have in store here."
"Glad to make your acquaintance," I reply, reciprocating the handshake as vigorously as I can.
"Absolutely everything on our menu has some sort of connection to my family, whether it be a recipe that one of them came up with, or just a dish that they greatly enjoyed," Alfonzo explains. "For example, there are two menu items each named after one of my daughters. I haven't seen either of them since before I was drafted, but last I heard, one was still in New York, and the other went to live in Sausalito with my wife."
As he says the second-to-last sentence of his tirade, he pans his hand in the direction of the large, framed photograph.
"They're very pretty," I say with sincerity.
"Indeed, I am a proud father, no?" Alfonzo replies. "But I digress. The 'Speciale di Katrina' is seen under the dessert section, and is named after the one on the right. She's the younger of the two by a good seven years, but despite the gap, they could pass for twins. She got her unique eyes from my late father."
I tune out his words as I read the menu for myself. I learn that Katrina's dedicated dish is a gelato sundae that's made with four different flavors. Checking the photograph next to its description, it looks delicious, but somewhat sloppy, at least compared to the presentation of all the other dishes. It certainly doesn't strike me as something she would eat, that much is clear. But then again, maybe I'm wrong. Especially considering how brief our time together ended up being.
"Any questions?" Alfonzo asks politely.
"No, sir," I reply.
"Alright. Well, you'll be served shortly," Alfonzo replies, before walking off.
I end up ordering the 'Pasto di Priscilla', which is basically lasagna al forno, topped with alfredo, marinara, and pesto in order to resemble the Italian flag, and named after the other daughter in the picture. It turns out to be quite good, but much larger than expected, so I only eat half and take the rest home as leftovers. I choose not to have dessert since this is lunch, not dinner, and once I've paid for the meal, I return home.
For some reason, I feel utterly fatigued once I step into the manor, so I immediately head to my bedroom and lie down for a nap. Despite how remarkable lunch was, being in such close proximity to one of Katrina's relatives has made me ecstatic yet uncomfortable at the same time. On the one hand, it's great, because even though there's no way I can get Katrina back, I can at least keep in touch with her family. On the other hand, I can't help but feel bad for Alfonzo, for he is blissfully unaware that one of his children is no longer alive, and he probably hasn't even heard anything about his wife's diagnosis.
How much fun would it be to be sent to fight overseas for five years, get sent back for undisclosed reasons, and learn about such horrible events happening while you're gone? Should I tell him the truth? Tell him how his wife has Alzheimer's and his daughter is dead? No, I can't bring myself to do that. He'd probably either lash out at me, sink into a depression, or even both. It's such an odd position for me to be in - having had a connection to some dead person and being the only one who knows what happened, before suddenly meeting a member of their family who is none the wiser.
Before I know it I'm conked out, but when I wake up an hour later, the sunset is steadily approaching. I'm not completely roused yet, when a knock on my door causes my eyes to shoot wide open. I walk over and answer it, revealing none other than my faithful butler, Vladik Phillips.
"Sir? You have received a phone-call," he says in his heavy, authentic Russian accent as he hands me my smartphone.
"Who is it?" I ask.
"She did not say. She referred to herself as 'a very special someone'," Vladik replies.
Without a word, I take the phone and put it to my ear, turning away and pacing around my room as Vladik turns away as well, walking off to give me some privacy.
"Hello, who is this?" I ask cautiously.
"Hi. Uh, is this Mark?" a woman asks in a thick and slightly gravelly Brooklyn accent, immediately drowning me in nostalgia.
"Yes, this is Mark you're talking to," I reply.
"Hey, uh, Mark? I honestly don't think I'll need to introduce myself. I know it's been a while, but surely you know who I am, right?" the woman continues, notes of worry in her voice.
"Well that depends. I've met countless women with New York accents before," I reply, growing annoyed. "Seriously, just dispense with the riddles and tell me who the hell you are!"
"It's… it's me, Mark," the woman somberly replies, sounding as though she's about to start crying. "It's me, Katrina. Katrina Vicciotelli? Please don't tell me you've forgotten!"