It was just another muggy, mid-week summer’s day and the street outside the bar was quiet. Inside it was too early for Vinny’s usual crowd. They were still at their desk jobs or out on the shop floor, sweating it out until quitting time when they would faithfully make their daily pilgrimage for happy hour to quench their thirst for company and something cold.
Rocky waited patiently outside the door. He looked at ease and relaxed, casually scanning the street and the passers-by, with an occasional look over his shoulder toward the door behind him. Anyone walking past him might naturally assume that he was waiting for somebody inside. They would be wrong, though. Rocky was watching for someone he thought might try to come in, not waiting for anyone to step out.
He tipped his head to one side as if listening for something only he could hear. His eyes shifted from a relaxed gaze to an intense stare and his posture came to attention. He started a slow pace back and forth, never turning his eyes away from the person who was approaching the bar. This is why Rocky had stayed outside all this time.
‘Hey, Rocky, old pal.’ The man stopped and extended a moist hand to Rocky, wiping his brow with the sleeve of his damp shirt.
Rocky ignored the sticky hand and responded with a low hum that seemed to resonate and vibrate from the back of his throat.
‘Why am I not surprised to see you here? Did she put you up to this?’ The sweaty newcomer looked like he wanted to move past Rocky. He tried to look beyond him, evaluating his chances of getting around Rocky and through the door.
‘Is she in there? I just want to apologize to her, that’s all.’ He took a careful step toward the entrance and Rocky moved to the side, blocking his way, his muscles taught and ready to spring into action.
Behind them, the wood-paneled door swung open. A tall, attractive woman stepped out and looked at them with amusement. She tightened the rubber band that secured her toffee-streaked blonde hair into a ponytail and took off her apron, perching a pen behind her ear. Her eyes moved from Rocky to the man standing in front of her. She smiled at Rocky, touching his back with a reassuring hand.
‘It’s okay, Rocky. Relax.’ With her hand still on Rocky’s back, she turned to her ex-boyfriend, her smile fading.
‘Where have you been, Jerry?’ she asked, her other hand now firmly planted on her hip. ‘I was expecting to hear from you days ago. Isn’t there something you want to say to me?’ She stared at him, daring him to speak.
Jerry started to reach for her but stopped short when he saw Rocky’s reaction: a subtle but protective move in his direction.
‘You don’t have to remind me. I’m here to apologize, Carmella.’ He stammered. ‘It just happened, I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I wasn’t thinking. I’m sorry.’
Carmella’s dark chocolate eyes flashed. ‘You weren’t thinking? You’re kidding, right?’ She stepped away from Rocky and toward Jerry, doggedly stabbing her pen repeatedly at his chest with every word. ‘You never think! And now you think an apology’s going to make it all better? I’m not just going to roll over and forget about it. It doesn’t work that way, Jerry.’
Rocky took another couple of slow, menacing steps closer to Jerry, making Jerry take a few back himself, off the sidewalk and onto the street.
‘Hang on, you guys. I really am sorry but you’re both blowing this up way out of proportion.’ He looked behind him to make sure the street was still empty, clearly feeling a bit more nervous. ‘It will never happen again,’ he reassured Carmella, pleading his case.
Carmella crossed her arms, shaking her head. ‘You don’t mean it. You never have. This is the last time I’m going to let you treat me like that.’
As Carmella and Rocky continued getting closer, Jerry kept backing up, which meant now he was in the middle of the street.
All three of them turned suddenly as they heard the loud screech of truck brakes coming to a stop just short of Jerry, just inches away from hitting him. The driver stepped out, slamming the door as he came around the truck, pulling the hat off his head in frustration.
‘What the hell are you guys doing in the middle of the street? Trying to get killed or something? Didn’t you see me coming?’ The driver looked from one to the other, waiting for a response.
Carmella, Rocky, and Jerry simply stared past him at the truck, their jaws gaping in disbelief.
The driver went on, his voice getting louder. ‘People usually hear me coming a mile away and they rush out, but they don’t usually stand in the middle of the freaking street! At least not ‘til I stop the truck!’
Carmella looked at Rocky, a slow smile spreading across her face. She turned to Jerry.
‘Well, Jerry, looks like it’s your lucky day. Somebody up there just threw you a bone.’
The expression on Jerry’s face changed from shocked disbelief to obvious relief as he looked at Carmella and then back at the truck. ‘Oh man, you got that right. I can’t believe my luck. First I thought you were never gonna forgive me and then I thought I was gonna die!’
‘You’re not out of the doghouse yet, though,’ she warned him. ‘You’re buying. We’re hot and miserable, and you owe both of us big time.’
Jerry turned to the driver. ‘If this isn’t part of your regular route it’s gonna be now. You might be here a while. You take credit cards, right?’
‘Of course. No one carries cash anymore. You mean to tell me that after I nearly ran you down you want to buy something?’ The driver tried putting his hat back on only to realize that he had ripped it in half earlier. ‘Hang on. Let me park this thing before I get a ticket.’
Once it was parked, Carmella and Rocky stepped up to the truck, intently studying each menu offering listed on its side.
‘Hmm, I think I’ll start with the Giant Neapolitan Ice Cream Sandwich and Rocky here will have the vanilla ice cream cone, two scoops, please. If you could put that in a paper cup that would be great. Then when I’m finished with mine I’m going to go get a giant cooler from inside and fill it up with one of everything,’ she smiled as she looked at Jerry, who was reluctantly handing his credit card through the window of the ice cream truck.
Rocky’s tail vibrated as it wagged furiously in anticipation.
‘That’ll teach him to eat all our butter pecan.’