Fred slung his too-heavy bag off his shoulders, dropping into the rolling chair behind his uncle’s cherry stained desk. When his mom told him his uncle needed him to help out for a few hours a night leading up to Valentine’s Day, he’d imagined something more glorious than answering the phones. At the very least, he imagined a task that would let him work on his assignments that were piling up by the day.

Still, as long as his uncle was willing to slip him a crisp Benjamin at the end of each night, he supposed it was worth giving up his free time. His elbow smacked painfully onto the desk when the phone shrieked to life. He pressed the down arrow on the volume even as he picked up the phone. Now that he was here, there was no need to have the volume up loudly enough to be heard through the clattering din of the kitchen.

“Thank you for calling Rizzolini’s, this is Federico. How may I assist you?” His ear still smarted from the twisting his uncle gave it the first time he was caught answering the phone as Fred. Such an American name would never convince customers they were an authentic Italian restaurant. He was to go by the name his father put on his birth certificate—or else.

“I would like to place a reservation for Saturday night,” the man on the other end of the line snapped out, disregarding any polite formalities.

Fred clicked through the online planner, looking for Saturday night’s openings. “This Saturday?” He asked. Not waiting for a response, he added. “I’m afraid we’re already booked full that night.”

“What do you mean, booked full?” The man demanded. “I told you I want to make a reservation.”

“Valentine’s Day is one of our busiest nights, sir. To ensure a place, you would need to have made your reservation weeks ago. If you would like, I can put you on our waiting list for next year.”

“Next year?” Fred could practically hear the spittle flying from his mouth. “I need a reservation for this year!”

“Then might I suggest you try another restaurant?” Fred tried to sound sympathetic. The line went dead.

He pulled out his English textbook, beginning to read through his latest assignment, Shakespeare’s sonnets. He had a report due first thing Monday morning on the sappy poems. He wondered how many of his classmates would be using the poems to try and impress their girlfriends this weekend. That was if any of them bothered to do the reading before Sunday night.

Just as he flipped to the correct page, the phone rang again. “Thank you for calling—”

“I need to place a reservation for Valentine’s Day.”

“Sorry, we’re full up,” Fred said, staring down at the first of the assigned sonnets.

“But you have to understand,” the man insisted, “my girlfriend particularly wants to come here.”

“Then maybe you should have made reservations sooner.”

“I would have, but she only just agreed to go out with me. I can’t mess it up already.”

“Dude, if she is going to break up with you because you didn’t make plans for Valentine’s Day before you were actually dating, then that chick is probably crazy and you’d be doing yourself a favor to have her dump you.”


“If you are so desperate, I can add you to the waiting list, but there are about twenty people ahead of you, so you probably aren’t going to get a table.”

“You’re a godsend,” the man said. “Table for two, please.”

Fred resisted the urge to roll his eyes and say something sarcastic. “Name?”

“Charlie Frothingham.”

“Alright Charlie, if we have a table come available, we’ll give you a call back at this number—is that cool?”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

“No problem.” He hung up the phone. Without so much as writing the name or number down, he returned to his textbook. Like he told the guy, he would be better off without a crazy girl in his life. Besides, it isn’t as if anyone was going to cancel their plans. If they did some walk in would get their spot, not any of the imaginary people on the waiting list.

He made it through a whole sonnet before the phone rang again. “Thank you for calling Rizzolini’s, this is Federico. How may I be of service?”

“I know it’s a bit last minute, but… do you have any openings on Valentine’s Day?”

“I’m afraid not,” Fred said. “We filled up weeks ago.”

“Drat. I knew it was a long shot, but I had to try. Do you have any suggestions on where I might be able to make reservations so late in the game?”

“Are you wanting to stay with Italian food or are you good with other options?”

“Preferably Italian, but at this point I’m desperate and will take anything I can get.”

“There’s that new place off the highway,” Fred said, “you might try them. Otherwise if you want Italian, you’ll have to leave town. There are a few steak and seafood places you might try as well. Best of luck. Hope you find something. If we have any cancellations, I’ll give you a call.”

“Thank you so much for all your help.”

The man hung up and Fred went back to his studying. Every few minutes he would get a new phone call. If they were polite to him, he would generally try and let them down nicely. If they weren’t…

“Valentine’s Day? All full.”

“Can’t you just cancel somebody’s reservation and put me in their spot?”

“Well, yes. I could,” Fred said. “But I’m not going to.”

“Don’t you know who I am?”

“Not really, I kind of stopped paying attention after you mentioned you wanted to make reservations on Saturday.”

“I am—”

“Don’t care.”

“Now, listen here.”

“Listening won’t make me suddenly have an opening. Wait—” he trailed off as if suddenly noticing something. “Nope. Still no space.”

“I plan to propose to my girlfriend on Saturday and I want the night to be perfect for her. Which means, you will make space for me to have dinner with my girlfriend at this restaurant on Valentine’s Day.”

“You really don’t want me to do that.”

“Why is that?”

“Because I will make a point to go out there and tell your girlfriend that you are an egotistical dickheaded bully. So I really think you want to rethink where you have dinner.”

“I would like to speak to the manager.”

“Sure, give me one moment.” He placed his palm over the receiver. “Uncle!”

A balding man with salt-and-pepper hair and a heavyset belly shoved his head into the doorway. “What is it, Federico my boy?”

“There’s a dickhead on the phone who wants me to cancel somebody’s reservation on Saturday so that we can fit him in.”

“Did you tell him that only an idiot waits until two days before Valentine’s Day to make a reservation?”

“I went with something a bit less nice.”

“That’s my lad. You tell him Rizzolini’s has no room and to stop wasting your time.”

“Yes uncle.” He moved his hand off the receiver. “I spoke with our manager and he would like me to tell you that you are an idiot. Have a great day.” He hung up.

As he was packing away his books, the phone rang, loud and jarring now that he was preparing to leave for the night. “Thank you for calling Rizzolini’s, this is Federico. If you are calling to make reservations for Valentine’s Day, please hang up now.” The line went dead. Maybe he should have been answering the phone like that all night. He probably would have gotten in more studying that way.

At the age of six, Eliza was certain of two things. The first was that she had stories to tell. The second was that she had no talent for illustrating them herself. Talent or no, she still wrote and illustrated her first book, one that should be located and locked away if only to prevent her parents from embarrassing her terribly by showing it off alongside baby pictures. Now she spends her days writing stories that she isn't embarrassed to show off after a little bit of polishing.

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