Joni sat in her purple swivel chair as Cindy Crawford stared down at her. She averted her eyes only to find Claudia Schiffer meeting her gaze.. Joni always hated the conference room, with its' images of Au Courant icons hanging from the wall.
The entrance of the delivery boy diverted her mind. "Please, come in." Au Courant's editor in chief waved the delivery boy in.
"This makes my job very easy. Everyone gets Perrier , except Joni who ordered a salad with chunky blue cheese dressing." Gasps were running around the room.
"It's diet dressing," Joni said weakly.
Tatiana glanced briefly at Joni's waist, then continued on with the meeting. "While we're enjoying our lunch, it would be a good time for me to announce who is going with us to fashion week in Rome."
Joni's hand stopped in mid air. She let her lettuce leaf fall to the plate. She closed her eyes and waited for the announcement. "I have decided that the only possible person I can take with me to fashion week is …" she paused as she glanced at Joni, "Anna."
" Thank you, Tatiana, " the spectacularly skinny Anna cooed. "I assumed you were taking your assistant with you."
"Your assistant thought that too," Joni said.
Tatiana flashed Joni a sympathetic smile. "You must be very disappointed, dear."
"I am. I was studying Italian, I can say voler bene and a vostro comedo. My apartment is decorated with Italian travel posters. I haven't eaten carbs in a month."
Tatiana fixed a steely stare at her assistant. She observed Joni's thick, somewhat unruly brown hair., and then looked into her brown eyes. "Joni, do you know why I hired you for this job?"
"Because you liked my portfolio?" she said in a squeaky voice.
Tatiana let out a deep sigh. "No, dear, it wasn't your brilliant portfolio. I was doing a favor for your mother. She called me and asked me to hire you. "
"She never told me that."
"The moment I saw you I knew you weren't our type at Au Courant magazine, but I took a pledge to help out my fellow sorority sisters. And although, you aren't exactly a size 2," she let her eyes drift over Joni's figure, "actually more a size 12, at least, I thought your portfolio was acceptable."
"So I'm not going to Rome because I'm a size 12?"
"I saw you eating donuts in the cafeteria." Bruce offered.
"I saw her buying a mocha latte with whipped cream and a huge carrot muffin at Starbucks," Gabriella added.
"I saw her eating a croissant with her coffee at her desk," Anna added.
Joni put her hands over her ears. "Stop, stop, stop."
As tears pricked her eyes, Joni ran out of the conference room . She grabbed her coat and ran out of the office. "Joni, you're not going to Rome, how sad," the receptionist offered.
"Patricia, how did you know?"
She pointed to the television screen hanging on the wall. "The meeting was broadcast to all the employees."
Joni let out the most ear shattering scream you ever heard . "Please tell Tatiana I'm not feeling well. I'm taking the rest of the day off."
"You're what? Tatiana is going to have a fit, missie. You can kiss your job here at Au Courant goodbye. Not that you ever fit in here to begin with, of course."
"I don't think I'll miss any of you," Joni proclaimed, and walked out of the office. When she was out on the street breathing fresh air, she hailed a cab. "Little Italy, please."
"Any particular address?"
"No, just take me to the best restaurant there."
"Sure, miss. I'll take you to La Grotta Verde.. They have the best food in Little Italy. "
"I 'm going to eat my heart out."
"Hey, that's okay, I like my women with a little meat on their bone," the driver said with a wink.
"Not where I work, or used to work, or …." Joni collapsed into tears.
"Don't worry , doll, it will all work out."
Joni handed the driver her fare and tip. "Thanks, I'll try to remember that."
Joni found herself outside a warm brick red restaurant named La Grotta Verde. She enteerd into a very inviting room. Chandeliers emitted a golden glow over the room. The centerpieces on the table were crystal globes with a candle lit inside them. The walls were covered in gold wallpaper and brown paneling. "Signorina, here's a lovely table for you." The man motioned her over to a table set for two. "Are you expecting anyone to visit you?" She shook her head. "Aah, a lovely lady like yourself?"
"I'm not lovely according to the people at work. They all think I'm fat."
The man's face looked incredulous. " No way, signorina. You are perfect." He handed her a menu. "I'll be right back." He came back with a bottle of wine . "On the house, signorina." He poured the red wine into the glass.
Joni sipped the wine. Her body relaxed a little. She sipped some more. She could feel a buzz coming on. The man snapped his fingers. "Alfredo, take the ladies order."
Joni looked carefully at the menu. She was going to eat all the Italian food she wanted. "I'll start off with the antipasto. Then, I'll have the lasagna, oh, and with lots of garlic bread."
"Very well, signorina."
The waiter brought over the bread and Joni munched on it as she waited for her antipasto. The waiter was back with a bottle of wine. "Another bottle? "
Alfredo pointed to a man sitting across the room. "With the gentlemen's compliments."
The man held up his glass and bowed his head slightly. He got up and walked to Joni's table. "I couldn't help but notice your loveliness, Signorina."
"I've never been called lovely more times in my life. I'm glad I wandered in here."
"Do you believe in kismet, signorina?"
"I don't know, I never really thought about it."
"May I sit down at your table?"
Joni gazed at the black wavy hair and the high cheekbones. "Please."
He took Joni's hand gently into his own.. "I am Marcello."
"Charmed. " His eyes shone warmly as he studied her face.
Joni 's heart quickened as she looked at the hot Italian hunk sitting opposite her. "You have an accent."
"I am from Rome. I am here on business."
"What is your business?"
"I am a movie director."
"Really? I'm actually having lunch with an Italian movie director?"
"I just wrapped up a picture . I'm headed back to Rome to start work on my next picture."
The waiter came with Joni's lasagna and Marcello's veal scallopini. Joni looked down at the lasagna. "You must think I'm a pig to eat like this."
"Not at all, Joni. In my country, food is like breathing."
"Not where I work. In my office, you either subsist on lettuce leaves, or you are an undisciplined rhinoceros."
"Where do you work?'
"At Au Courant magazine."
"What do you do?"
"I'm a fashion assistant. Actually, I'm the assistant to Tatiana Collins."
"Yes, I know of her. In fact, I've met her." He looked at Joni sympathetically. "Here, have more wine."
"I don't think I'm going to have to put up with her any more. I just walked off the job. I walked away from a job that most people would die for."
"I thought she was going to take me to Rome with her for fashion week, but she took Anna instead, because I'm too fat to go."
"Nonsense. " He pointed to a statue of a nude woman. "Do you see the curves on that statue. That is the way a woman should look. Mairlyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, these are real women . Actresses and models are too thin these days. They have to starve themselves to get any work I meet that type of woman all the time,." Marcello sighed deeply as his eyes focused on Joni's face , and then drifted down her figure. Joni felt a warmth enveloping her. "And they're shallow, very shallow. "
"Shallow, but beautiful."
Marcello lifted his wine glass, "A toast to the real beauty."
Joni 's eyes locked with the coal eyes of Marcello as their glasses clinked together. As she sipped her wine, Marcello took her other hand and softly kissed it. Joni felt a delicious frisson pass through her.
"Bella, do you believe in love at first sight?"
"I thought that was something that only happened in romance novels."
"Destiny has brought you to me, my belisisima, Joni."
They gazed at each other as an ecstatic feeling took hold of Joni. "Maybe there was a reason I wasn't chosen to go to Rome and the whole office was laughing at me."
"Marcello," a female voice bellowed. Joni saw a gorgeous blonde woman approaching the table. She kissed him on the cheek. "Your film crew told me where you were." She fixed Joni with an icy stare. "Who is this woman?"
"Gabriella, she is…."
The woman cut him off. "Are you cheating on me, Marcello?"
"No, darling ,I….'
Gabriella cut him off. She turned her wrath onto Joni. "Did he use the destiny has brought you to me routine on you, dearie?"
Joni swallowed. "Well, uh…"
"You're only one in a string of women who fate has brought to him."
"Gabriella, please, you are acting foolish. There's no reason for you to be jealous of this woman." Marcello's words pricked at Joni's heart.
"You're right, my dear Marcello," Gabriella purred sweetly, "because," she said as she splashed wine on Marcello's face, "we're through,", she finished emphatically. She marched towards the door.
Marcello left the table without a glance at Joni. He followed Gabriella out the door. Joni stared bleakly into her wine. Alfredo approached the table. "Some more wine?"
"Yes, I think I need a whole bottle to drown my sorrows. Marcello told me he was falling in love with me. I wanted to believe him, but now I see that only happens in romance novels."
"SIgnorina,"Alfredo pointed to the window. "I see him coming back. There is still hope."
Marcello came in alone. He sat down at the table. "It's over."
Joni's stomach churned. "I knew it was too good to be true."
Marcello 's eyes poured warmth onto Joni. "You misunderstand, Joni."
Joni jumped out of her chair. "I misunderstand nothing. You are just feeding me a line.Why did you tell her she had no reason to be jealous of me."
Marcello gently caressed Joni's hand. "She doesn't, belissima, because she doesn't have any claim on my heart. I have met the woman who owns my heart."
Joni looked at Alfredo with a helpless expression. "Alfredo,, what should I do?"
"Go with the flow, signorina. Let yourself receive the love. I'll be right back." He came back with a bottle of champagne.
"You are a wise man, Alfredo," Marcello pronounced, as the waiter filled the two glasses with champagne. "A toast to amor negge senza legge."
Joni's eyes glistened with tears as she clinked her glass with Marcello's. "I don'tknow what you just said, but it sounds good to me."
"It means the ways of love are strange."
"I guess that's true, because I might have love, but I have no job. I walked off my job this morning and Tatiana must have a possee out for me by now."
"Not to worry, darling. I will give you a job as my production assistant. After this picture is over, you will fly to Rome with me."
"This is all happening so fast. I don't know what to do."
"Take the job, signorina," Alfredo said. "How often does one get this opportunity."
"Just do me one more favor, Marcello,",Joni asked.
"Anything, my love."
A half hour later, Joni and Marcello were riding up Madison Avenue in a white stretch limo. It pulled up in front of the headquarters of Au Courant magazine. Joni kissed Marcello on the cheek before she rode the elevator to her office.
"There you are," Patricia screeched, before emitting a small giggle. "Tatiana has been asking foryou."
"I know I did the wrong thing," Joni said meekly, " but …."
"But what?" Tatiana bellowed. "You have been gone for three hours. I would fire you but I swore an oath of loyalty to my sorority sister. "
"So I should just work here and be miserable?"
"Miserable, you ungrateful wench. Here I am, I give a dream job to a, well, let's just say, a not too slender lady, and this is how I get repaid."
Marcello walked into the office. He took Joni's hand and kissed it. "Darling, do you need any help picking up your things?"
Tatiana's eyes widened. "Marcello ? What are you doing with," she flailed her hands around wildly. "With this?" as her hands finally pointed to Joni.
"I am cherishing the treasure that fate has bestowed upon me.."Patricia's mouth fell open. "She doesn't need your job anymore. She is flying with me to Rome to be my production assistant, and, my love. As we say in the movies, fade out and fade in to our new life."
" Amor regge senza legge..Arriverderci, everyone,"Joni said. Marcello took her hand and they walked out the door.