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Kate met Emilio the first night she started at Drugville. It was a horrible little drugstore in the north part of town, near the harbor. She had just turned sixteen, and her parents said no car until she got a job. Her friend Bernadette loved her job at a boutique, and spoke of it all the time. This only raised Kate’s expectations and left her disappointed at the shabby, dull, and downright creepy Drugville. She constantly compared her life to her friend’s, and in the job category she had lost. Then again, at least her name wasn’t Bernadette.
She had to ride her bike home that first night. It was late; almost midnight. Her small Massachusetts town was relatively safe, but she was still frightened. Her parents didn’t like her riding alone either, but were planning on getting her a car within the next two weeks, and said that her bike would do for now. She pedaled as fast as she could, ready to get home and out of the slight drizzle that had started. She was starving. Her parents had loaned her a few dollars for lunch but when she asked her boss for a break, he only laughed. He was a fat man with yellow teeth and bright blonde eyelashes.
Then she saw the sign. “Emilio’s Cafe” was lit up in bright green against the night sky. It wasn’t a brand new building, but didn’t look like a complete dive. Why not? She tied her bike up by the curb and went in the door. A bell sounded as she walked in and an old man looked up from behind the counter, where he was sweeping.
“Welcome, welcome! How about some coffee?” He set down is broom and rested his hands on the counter. “My name is Emilio.” He had a thick Italian accent that went along with his characteristic nose and side swept hair. He was probably about sixty five. For a minute, Kate’s paranoia set in; the only people in the restaurant were herself and an old man. But it only lasted for a second when she saw the kindly expression on a face with soft wrinkles around the mouth.
“I’m Kate.” She smiled and looked at the chalkboard menu above his head. “Um, can I have…. A cannoli. And hot chocolate.”
“Yes, of course.” She began to take cash out her pocket, but he waved it away. “It’s on me. You look like you’ve had a rough day.” Kate thanked him profusely, and before she knew it she was telling him all about her awful day at Drugville. And thus a friendship began.
Every night except Tuesdays and Fridays (her days off) for the next two years, Kate went to Emilio’s after work. It was usually very late; he was about to close and there were no other customers in the Italian cafe. She complained about her boss, and he told her how to interact with customers. She brought him Peanut M&Ms almost every night she came, and he gave her a cannoli and his special caramel hot chocolate. At one point before Prom she told him she was on a diet. He laughed and gave her a cannoli anyway.
He was a widowed man; his wife had died when he was forty, when they still lived in Italy. He wasn’t very lonely, though; he was content with his life and busy running the cafe. Kate lived with her two parents and had an older brother who had moved to California several years before. She herself was rather lonely; she worked so much she rarely saw her friends or parents.
“Emilio,” Kate said to him one night in April, near the end of her senior year in high school. “I’ve never had a boyfriend. I’m always at work, and there’s no one at school that seems interested.” She sighed. It was true that no one was very interested. She was pretty, with straight blonde hair and dark brown eyes. She was quiet, though, and made no effort to talk to boys. Her beauty was not so grand that it brought her any special attention.
“One day, one day Kate you will find your man.” Emilio left it that, smiling sympathetically at his young friend.
One night the next week, a boy was at Emilio’s. A man, really, probably about Kate’s age, maybe a little older. He could have been related to Emilio; his Italian features mirrored the old man’s, except the larger eyes and longer hairstyle.
He smiled at Kate. “Emilio told me you would be in around now. I’m Benny.” Kate introduced herself while her eyes scanned the room for Emilio. Noticing this, Benny said, “I’m his new employee. He told me I can close up tonight, even though it’s only my first day. He said you could help…”
“Uh, sure, no problem. “ Kate sat down as he went in the back room, waiting expectantly for her cannoli. Then she remembered that Benny probably didn’t know about her usual order. She turned around to call his name. She almost swiveled right into him; he was coming up to her with her cannoli and caramel hot chocolate. Emilio had informed him well. “Oh, thanks. I usually give these M&Ms to Emilio, if you want them.” Benny said he loved M&Ms. And thus a relationship began.
The next few years were wonderful to Kate. Not only did she have her first love, Benny was her true love. They saw each other every night for the rest of her senior year and the summer after. Emilio still made occasional appearances on Kate’s visits, but took to leaving around five instead. Kate missed him at times, but was glad for the time she could spend with Benny. He was a year older than her, and had taken a year off before college. They started school together in the fall in Boston, and her life had taken a turn for the better since her days at Drugville.
Every summer they visited home, and visited Emilio. He was very fond of Benny as well as Kate, and the couple cherished him as a friend and a mentor. After graduation, they moved back closer to home, to a town not far from where they grew up. Seven years after Kate met Emilio, she told him about her engagement. He was the first to know, and as he congratulated Kate and Benny he seemed genuinely delighted about their marriage.
The wedding was lovely, and instead of cake there was a pile of cannolis, free of charge. These same cannolis were to make appearances throughout many events of the couples’ lives: birthday parties, births, and two of their children’s graduations. They were not, however, present at their third son’s graduation. Emilio was in critical condition at the hospital; he was dying.
Benny and Kate went to the funeral. One of the first people they saw when they walked in the church was Eric Thomas, who Kate had gone to school with. They said their hellos, and Kate asked how Eric knew Emilio.
“He was my neighbor, old family friend. I actually applied for a job at his coffee shop, but Benny here beat me out. Guess I didn’t fill all those strict requirements old Emilio had.”
Later Kate asked Benny what Eric had meant. “I wouldn’t have thought that Emilio would have very strict job requirements,” she said.
“Well, it wasn’t a normal application…” Benny began before he was interrupted by Emilio’s cousin Marco.
“You are Kate, no?” He asked, turning to Benny’s wife. She nodded. “This is a letter from Emilio, to you.” She thanked him and took the letter.
It began with “To my dear friend.” It went on to say how grateful he was of her friendship, in a time when he had no family close by. The second page spoke a lot about Benny, and how Emilio was glad of their happiness together. Something made Kate stop and reread, processing the words.
“When I hired Benny, I didn’t really need a shop assistant. You were talking about how lonely you were, and I wanted to help you. I made boyfriend applications, disguised as job applications. The women that applied were immediately rejected, and I carefully went through the applications of the young men. Benny’s replies made him seem a responsible and hardworking young man. I met with him in an interview, and he seemed a perfect match for you- he saw life with the same unique beauty as you. He also said his favorite thing on the menu was the cannolis. I hope you can forgive me going behind your back, and I wish you and Benny the best. With much love,
Your old Italian friend, Emilio.”
Kate could no longer hold her tears. Emilio had hired Benny just for her; this gift of love made him the truest friend she had ever had.