Nick slipped on his dark hoodie. He walked out of the house without saying goodbye. He heard his mother call and say, “Wear your winter coat, it’s cold.”
Then he heard his father say, “Leave him alone. He’s got to work through the change in his plans. He’ll be okay.”
Nick thought, “No, I won’t be okay. I’ll never get the scholarship.”
He looked at the night sky and wondered if anybody really cared about him. He wondered if his parents even tried to understand him. He felt angry. He wanted scream at the top of his lungs, but suppressed the desire, he knew he’d be making trouble for himself. Five minutes later he was standing in front of Martini’s Deli. Tino was behind the counter waiting on a policeman.
Nick stood outside. He was cold, the night temperature dropped to near thirty and a brisk wind kicked in. Nick remembered hearing about a cold front coming down from Canada. His hands were cold, he blew on them. He started jumping up and down to stay warm. Then he heard a voice.
“Hey, Nicky. You cold. Take this and put it around your neck.”
Nick turned and saw Johnny Balboni handing him a wore scarf.
“Thanks Johnny. I can’t take it, it’s yours,” said Nick.
Johnny came a step closer, “No, you take it. I want you to have it. It’s my best one. But you stood up for me today. If I was thirty years younger, they wouldn’t have bothered me. But now, now is different. I’m not as strong as I used to be.”
Nick didn’t want the scarf, but he took it and wrapped it around his neck the way Johnny wanted him to wrap it.
“There, you feel better. I bet you not so cold now. Tell me the truth, you happy Johnny gave you his scarf?”
Nick did feel warmer. Okay, he wasn’t a fashion plate but the 18 degree wind chill didn’t feel quite as bad as it did a few minutes before. He looked at Johnny, still wearing his old fedora and giving him his broad smile showing mostly gums and few teeth. Nick said, “I feel much better, Johnny. I’ll drop it by your place tomorrow.”
“No. It’s yours Nick. I want you to have it. You know where I got this scarf. I’ll tell you. A long time ago, I had a girlfriend. I used to be good looking in those days. She gave me this scarf for Christmas. It was the best gift I ever had. I know she would want you to have it.”
Nick stared at Johnny. He couldn’t picture Johnny ever being good looking.
Johnny said, “I gotta go. See you around, Nick.”
Johnny picked up his black plastic trash bag, one-third filled with aluminum cans, tugged on the brim of his fedora and headed up the alley between Martini’s Deli and Eddie’s Barbershop. Nick was watching him when he heard the deli door open.
“You gonna stand out there all night. Your dad called and said you was on your way,” Tino Martini sounded more like a Marine drill sergeant than a deli owner.
Nick followed Tino into the deli. He took a quick glance for the policeman. Only Tino and he were in the deli. Nick surmised the policeman left while he was talking with Johnny.
Tino went behind the counter and Nick stood in front of the counter. Tino was a big guy. Not big in the way of a basketball player, but big in the way of looking like he could pick up a two-hundred pound bag of sand and toss it like it was filled with air. Tino’s arms were covered with black hair.
Tino wiped his hands on his apron, then he placed his hands, palm down on the counter and bent forward. He said, “I’m doing your dad a favor. I owe him, now we’re even. Don’t ask him about the favor. I also like what you did earlier today taking up of Johnny. He don’t hurt nobody. These are my rules. While you work here, you don’t play on your phone or your computer. I don’t care if there is nobody in here. I find out, you’re done. Understand?”
“Here’s another thing. You gonna work from two in the afternoon to ten at night on Saturday and Sunday. That’s when I normally close. I’ll show up to take the cash. You’re going to clean up and then leave. It will take about an hour. If you work out on the weekends, maybe I’ll give a few nights during the week.”
“You got any questions?”
“Okay if I start next weekend?”
“No. You start tomorrow. I’m going to take Janet out. We ain’t been to a movie in years.”
“Okay. Thanks for work, Mr. Martini,” said Nick. He didn’t mean it.
“Don’t mention it. Tell your father I said hello.”
“Okay.” Nick walked out of the deli. His heart felt as heavy as a ship’s anchor. Some Christmas he thought. He gave the scarf another wrap around his neck, stuck his hands in his jean’s pockets and headed toward home.
Just when Nick thought his day couldn’t get worse, it got worse.