“They could use a break,” I agreed.
Aaron and his wife had just moved here from southern California with their adorable 18-month-old son. Aaron had called and asked if he could join the rugby team, a move that utterly melted The Hubs’ heart from the first moment. Aaron is a great blue-eyed freckled giant, a medical intern and former policeman, great rugby material and something of a Renaissance man. His wife is a spunky pixie, hardy and utterly devoted to their son who is a clever angel whose beginning language skills include sign language.
We had helped them find a cute little house to rent near our friend Mimi. John had described nearby shopping and we had offered them a spare refrigerator that wasn’t needed after all. We knew what it was like being young, starting a new adventure in a new place, moving and living out of boxes.
We wanted them to know that our town can be a welcoming place with nice people, support systems. We wanted them to feel they had people they can call on for help. We felt vaguely parental, of course, but want to introduce them to people their own age too. We plotted to have them come to a holiday picnic as our guests so they can meet more people and start to feel that this could be something like home, no matter how long they stay.
I had worked hard all week and the thought of a Napoli pizza was a treat, a reward for wrestling with software analysis and stubborn co-workers. My work Friday had ended on a quietly happy note. A last-minute request from someone I had met with a few weeks ago came in. Everyone else had gone home for the holiday weekend and we laughed at the thought that we were the only people at work so late. I was pleased she had taken my suggestion for an easy solution and it took just a matter of minutes to update the system so she could track the success of her workgroup’s efforts. It was satisfying to be able to help someone quickly and make her work life just a little easier. I was ready for the holiday weekend.
The Hubs has long declared Napoli pizza as “the best pizza in the world.” He accepts no arguments. His decision is final. Tony and his family run Napoli’s. The one closest to the rugby pitch is the mothership, but there are two other newer locations. We like the old place. We are always interested in who is making the pizza tonight. For instance, if it’s John (not The Hubs) we know we will get the thin-crust, extra-crispy we have in mind. We love Tony too, but typical of any owner, Tony has very specific ideas of what a pizza should be. He has a special mix of sausage that is celestial.
For 15 years we have ordered a “Tony’s Special, thin crust, extra crispy.” It was so predictable, when we called it in, they knew our voices and responded, “OK, one John Kelly Special!” Then last year we changed our order. Now we order pepperoni, mushrooms and double sausage, still thin crust, still extra crispy. You’ve got to keep your pizza people on their toes, right?
We met the kids at Napoli’s and even at 6:30 pm, ok, 6:45 pm it was crowded. We usually order take-out so I was surprised it was so busy so early. But we got a booth and started playing with the baby instead of looking at the menu. After all, we knew what we wanted. So did Aaron’s son, who clearly gestured towards the cup of ice water that he please wanted an ice cube right now.
We ordered our pizzas, a pitcher of beer and I threw caution to the wind and ordered a diet Pepsi. We clinked our glasses together in toast to welcome them to Vallejo and continued talking about their move, the house they rented, what to do with the floors, the old Wedgewood stove, how to repair the space in the fence where the dogs can get out.
Then Aaron’s eyes riveted past my shoulder and an uproar, a hubbub started. Someone yelled, “Get out! Get out!” Someone said, “Gun.”
I turned around and uniformed and padded officers came through the glass doorway with assault rifles and turned through the second dining room towards the restaurant’s rest rooms.
“Get out! Get out!”
I grabbed my purse and turned out of the booth. There was pizza splattered on the floor between me and the doorway. Someone dropped their pizza, I thought. It’s funny what occurs to you in an emergency. I dropped to the floor, thinking if there’s gunfire, it will be about waist-high. I felt The Hubs drop on top of me.
That’s so sweet, I thought. He’s protecting me. But he’s likely to get himself killed doing it.
He pushed me up. I dodged the spilled pizza slices, not wanting to tear my knee up again and slipped out the front door to the sidewalk. I pulled my Pashmina shawl around me and kept walking. There were police cars everywhere. Down the sidewalk, a uniformed policeman beckoned me.
“Come on,” he said urgently, gently. “Keep going.”
Where was my husband? Where were Aaron, his wife and the baby? I couldn’t look back, sure a bullet would find me in the bright twilight if I did. I walked past the barbershop to the fence that bordered the vacant lot next to the barber. I put my arms on the fence and sobbed. A young woman, someone I do not know, came up behind me and said, “Breathe with me.”
“Yes,” I said. Inhale, one, two, three, exhale. And again. She was no longer there. I turned to see she had run across the usually busy street to be with a friend. And John was there suddenly, talking to the men from the barbershop. He hugged me. They asked me if I wanted to sit down. I did. They asked me if I wanted some water. I did. I choked back more sobs.
A thin, tousle-haired young man with his arms behind him lurched in front of the barbershop windows, shouting over his shoulder, another uniformed policeman holding his cuffed wrists. He wore a baseball jersey. Not the Giants, I thought. No, he’s not on my team. He looked at me, agitated but without the wild-eyes of insanity. I was curious, stunned. This was the face of Death, so ordinary, so impersonal.
“He’s gone now,” an officer said. I walked out of the barbershop where John was talking. I thanked them and hugged the big guy who had brought me water. Aaron, his wife and baby were there and Aaron hugged me.
We went back to Napoli’s, sat down in our booth. Our waitress brought our pizzas. One of the officers came around to each of the tables and apologized for disturbing our dinner. I held his hand for a moment. We ate. I tried to be normal again. We joked about the picnic on Sunday being a lot less exciting than this. No one was hurt but I don’t think I will be the same.
On our way home I told John, “I think that was the best pizza I ever had.”