“Do you like your donut?”
The baker’s eyes pierced me, and I didn’t know if he meant anything sinister by his question. Then he smiled, but not the normal smile: this one only used half of his face and didn’t come close to reaching his eyes. Since I said nothing, he raised his hands over his head and yawned while he stretched.
I scanned the room, worried this action was a sign to his Italian mob. Just the lady behind the counter and a woman browsing the croissants. And the baker, who’s shirt inched up a little—before you assume I was excited to see the skin under his shirt, think again. Something metal in the waistband of his jeans reflected off the light.
“That bad, huh?” he laughed easily. “I haven’t told you my name! Federico. I suppose the Americans would say Fred.”
I stared at his outstretched hand. Suddenly, the walls of the bakery closed in. The woman behind the counter watched me. Was she a sister, lover, or someone dangerous? I tried to find somewhere else to place my eyes, but they kept returning to the deepness of Fred’s. Warm and inviting, mysterious and terrifying and harsh.
“You don’t have to be afraid,” he said.
“What?” I finally spoke.
“Of my hand. It’s clean, I wash them a lot when I’m working. Otherwise, not so much.” Fred winked at the end.
I wondered if he knew how close to fainting I was.
“You’re shy, aren’t you?”
“You’re forward, aren’t you?”
A light chuckle. “Haven’t you just figured me out.” Fred reached over and I almost screamed, but one of his strong fingers tapped my forehead. “I think you think too much.”
My mind flashed to them below my window, the carelessness that lead to a murder. “I think some people don’t think enough.”
“I like you.”
“Yeah, I’m not very far in my Italian lessons but thanks I guess.”
“I said you’re very beautiful.”
One of his hands reached up to stroke my hair. I flinched, hating how affectionate and open Italian men were. Well, okay, maybe I wouldn’t have hated it so much if I didn’t suspect I was being held captive in this conversation. Or think he had the capacity to kill.
Fred smiled, seemingly genuine this time. “Don’t be so uptight. You’re studying abroad in my country. Perhaps you should learn more about where you’re staying.”
More about why you killed that man? More about Italian violence? “What do you mean?”
“I mean, go out with me tonight.”
“Here’s my number.”
Fred’s easy smile and dark coloring made every part of me want to say yes, but I promised him nothing. He was dangerous, which sent a thrill through my body, and I didn’t want him to have access to contacting me.
“Give me yours,” he prompted.
Is that a threat? Do I have an option?
“I have to get to work, call me okay?”
I ran out the door as soon as he turned his back. This time, my feet were not stuck to the cement. I booked it to the Loggia and plopped down on the stairs. Behind me sat so many timeless pieces of art, reminders of why I chose Florence. A few men walked by and said things to me in Italian, but I ignored them. In America, I never got this much attention, it made me feel impossibly more awkward and uncertain of the world around me.
I needed to toughen up, not be frightened of everything, but that went against who I was. I wanted to grow as a person but not change myself.
A flash went off to my right. Knowing it’d be a tourist, I paid no attention. But when I casually turned my head a few minutes later, I saw a shadow around the corner, watching me.