Jesse swiped away the trickle of sweat wandering down her face. She glanced up at the leafy green umbrella sprouting out of the wrought iron table and willed the shade to drop the temperature a few degrees. The suffocating humidity, mixed with the nearby canals savory stench failed to buckle under her glare. Summer heat washed over the cobblestone Palazzo even as evening pressed on.
She felt Darren gaze over his guide book from across the table.
“Looking for something?”
He plopped the book onto the newspapers with a smile, causing his empty espresso to rattle in its tiny saucer.
“Maybe I can find some.”
She tilted her head and ignored the bead dribbling down her spine. “Dove?” she asked, testing her Italian.
“You’ll see.” He winked and rose.
“Don’t you want your book?” She gestured with her own tome to the worn translation volume supporting the pile littering the table.
“No. You know me, I’m a pro.”
She held her tongue and smiled instead. She knew whatever happened next would at least be better entertainment than repetitive exercises.
Lowering her grammar book into her lap, she followed Darren as he wound over to the lounging cafe owner. The potbellied man leaned on his counter-top in front of a sagging fan, soaking up more than his share of mobile air as he perused his own limp reading material.
“Excuse me,” Darren began, adding his ever charming smile to try and mitigate the annoying American stereotype clinging to his accent. “Ha una crema?”
The owner frowned over his paper and cocked his head to the side. Jesse had the distinct impression Darren had sprouted two heads.
“Una crema de barba?” asked the owner.
Darren laughed and shook his head, waving his hands as well in order to make his point. “No, no.” He drew a deep breath, regaining his buoyant confidence. “Ha..un..un gelato.”
“Ah, si si.” The owner folded his paper and Jesse presumed he went in search of a menu. The small dog ramming into her legs tore her attention away from the rest of Darren’s endeavors.
The young blonde man at the other end of the leash bobbed his head repeatedly in obvious apology. Jesse guessed the train of words steaming from his lips added to the regret.
“Don’t worry.” She smiled and reached over to help him untangle the small bundle of fur from the knot the dog had created around the table’s legs.
“Thank..you,” he managed in an accent Jesse couldn’t quite pin down. He waggled his finger down one of the alleyways cutting through the towering buildings. “Grand Canal?”
“No,” she shook her head and tried to pull the words together into an understandable string. “E sulla strada sbagliata.”
He frowned, his eyes flickering around the barren café as if for invisible aid.
Obviously not Italian then, she thought, noting with dismay his incomprehension might be because she had skipped class in order to visit Vesuvius when they had covered maps and directions.
“Wrong road,” she said again, aiming her finger again at the alley he had indicated and shaking her head from side to side at a methodical pace in order to make her point. She waved down another branch on the other side of the Palazzo and hoped her gesticulating arms successfully indicated he should head there and stay straight.
He seemed to gather the idea, or at least appreciated her help. He nodded again and smiled.
Jesse tried not to feel as if his spreading lips were an attempt to appease some lunatic his dog had accidently stirred.
He waved and with the little creature flickering along at his side, made his way to where she had indicated.
“Making friends I see?”
She swiveled to find Darren, hands full and a satisfied cafe owner counting some bills behind him.
“Have to keep up with you,” she said with a shrug. The hint of a breeze carried a glimmer of coolness from the bowls in his hand. “What have you got?”
She took the glass bowl Darren offered. The cold touch on her fingers felt heavenly. A single round mound of magenta gelato promised a few morsels of relief.
Gathering her spoon she glanced over at Darren as he took his seat with his own mint hued concoction. “E compreso il servizio?”
“No, but if you care to give a tip, it would be appreciated.”
“When you bring a girl ice-cream, always make it two scoops,” she said and shoved a mouthful between her smiling lips.