John G sips his macchiato.
“Hey, kid, how’s the fucken face?”
The kid, John’s barista, wipes down the coffee machine, touches the bridge of his nose. It didn’t set right after a misunderstanding with Fido, one of John’s guys, got it broke and he’s still all fucken pouty about it. John reckons he looks like a tough guy now, but. All the kid needs is to hit the gym with his sons, Georgie and Carlo, beef up a bit. Maybe get a haircut too. Kid looks like Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon. What the fuck, right?
The kid goes,
“It’s getting there.”
“Good stuff, champ. How’s uni?”
The kid shrugs.
“What’s the matter? I thought you liked it. Accountanancing, mate.”
John pays the kid’s uni fees. Once the kid graduates, hits the gym, he can quit brewing coffees and start cooking books. Got a brain on him like a fucken rocket scientist.
John goes over, reaches across the counter, clasps the kid on the shoulder, rubs his bicep. Soft to the touch. John stifles his disappointment. Images of the kid hefting dumbbells dreamily cross his thoughts.
“What’s the matter? Seriously. You’ve been moping around here last few weeks. You need to smile for the customers, mate. The face is getting there. You don’t look like a chink having an allergy attack anymore.”
The kid pulls away from John’s reach, drops his tea towel on the counter. He looks at John. John looks back. John sees sadness on the kid’s busted-up face, says,
“She dumped you.”
The kid forgets about his nose, pinches the spot between his eyes to stop tears. He remembers his nose when pain shoots through his skull. He starts balling.
John comes around the counter, bearhugs the kid.
“There, there, mate. There, there. They’re all cunts, mate, they’re allllllllllll cunts.”
Mark gets the job. Mark is the best looking, after all.
Georgie doesn’t care but Carlo protests the decision. During a speed-fuelled rant at his dad, he strips off his top, begins flexing wildly in the cafe and yells “Boom!” with each fresh pose. He claims that, built as he is, if there is a chick to fuck, he ought to be the one doing the fucking. Who could resist, right?
Mark doesn’t want the job. Mark has his own break-up shit to sort. Mark says, “If this right here turns into a posedown, I’m gone.”
Carlo is up for it. Carlo hits ‘Most Muscular.’
John G again tells Mark he has the job.
Operation: Heartbreak is a goer.
When Mark first sees her, she’s fresh from the gym showers, rosy-cheeked and smelling of apricots.
Carlo should’ve got the job.
Mark follows her to a bookstore selling Borders remainders. James Patterson and that’s about it. She’s even more disappointed than he is.
Carlo should’ve got the job.
They look at each other, all matching blue eyes and dimples.
Carlo isn’t getting anywhere near her.
“You were supposed to spend months building this girl up then emotionally cripple her.”
“Operation: Heartbreak, Mark. Heartbreak.”
“Hey, I did my best, I’m sorry…”
“I should’ve sent Carlo.”
“I thought you didn’t want her raped.”
John goes to speak, pauses, then nods his head.
They’re out back of Cafe Gigliotti. Mark watches smoke curl up and away from his cigarette, dissipating like John’s anger.
“What’s her name again?”
John sucks his teeth.
“And you’re seeing her again tonight?”
“Yeah. This subversive Russian art collective put huge sculptures up and down Swanston Street for this art thing. We’re gunna go check it out. Looks fucken cool.”
John grimaces like someone’s tugging hard on his pubes.
“That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.”
“Nothing wrong with art, boss.”
They stand and smoke.
“Your heart is too big. It will get you in trouble.”
“She’s beautiful. What can I say?”
John claps Mark on the shoulder. It’s nice and firm. John nods to himself, says,
“You go then, be with your beauty.”
“What are you gunna do?”
“Take the kid to the knock shop. Get Lisa to stick a finger up his arse.”
“Ah. The happiest of endings, eh?”
John grinds his smoke out underfoot.
“Don’t get used to it, mate.”