“That tree looks super. Much neater.”
“Thank you.” Greg wiped his forehead, bent down and took a drink from the can. “Look, I’ve been trying to catch you for a word. I’m sorry I snapped at you the other night.”
“That’s all right. I’m sure you had your reasons.”
“Makso’s been worried lately. There have been break-ins at houses in this area. He thinks it’s a gang of itinerant Italians. It’s easy for them to come over under cover of night, do a few burglaries then take off. He was worried about his yacht, and he puts me under pressure all the time.
“I need this job; I have a wife and baby at home. I haven’t told anybody. If I revealed that to Severina or Ivan they’d keep on asking about them. My wife relies on my wages, so I have no alternative but to do everything Makso asks and to be sharp about it. Being under pressure makes me short tempered.”
“I’m glad you told me.”
“Friends?” He took off his glove and held out his hand.
“Friends.” She shook it.
That explained why he was so often on his phone. How sad that he’d had to leave his child.
“How old is your baby?”
“The baby, how old is it? Is it a girl or a boy.”
He hesitated. She saw him gulp, then he looked at the can and drained it. He seemed lost for words.
“Um, a year now. She’s a year, that’s it.”
“I won’t ask any more, I can see how upsetting it is. Sorry I pried. You’ve got such a pile of cuttings here, and it’s still boiling hot, so what can I do to help?”
“Nothing.” He seemed to have recovered. “It’s OK, I’m nearly done, then I’m going off into Vodnjan.”
“The least I can do is take that can from you. I’ll throw it in the bin on my way in.”
“OK.” He shrugged his shoulders and handed her the can.
She took it gingerly by the rim so as not to spoil any prints. It wouldn’t surprise her now to learn that Greg had written the note calling for help.
Maybe she could get him a raise from Makso. If she could do that, she thought, wandering away and sending Greg a friendly wave as she went, she’d be a miracle worker.
* * * *
Mihovil propped his bike against the side of the town hall. There was his group of friends, fellow students, gathered together as always at this time of evening, chatting by the benches next to the park.
It was one special friend he looked for, as always. Ildie’s long curly hair reached down to her waist. There she stood with her back to him.
She wore a yellow ribbon today, threaded through her plait in a way that fascinated him.
This evening she wore the cutest of dresses, a new one, just above the knee, fitted over her delicate shoulders, falling away like a smock. It glowed white in the sunset.
As always, he tried not to stare. One of his friends nudged her, and she turned.
As she looked in his direction, he raised his hand instinctively to hide his port wine stain, and smiled. He knew she wasn’t interested in him in that way; she was too shy.
Besides, no girls were interested in him in that way, he thought sadly as he looked at his other friends, their hands casually draped around their girls’ waists.
“Hi, Ildie, how are you?”
“I’m good. Is something wrong? You look . . . I don’t know, you don’t look yourself.” Gently she took his arm and steered him away from the group. “It’s so hot – let’s go and sit by the fountain.”
Ildie was the caring one of the group. The one they all brought their problems to: with their studying, with their parents, with each other. She was the shoulder to cry on, the voice of reason and good judgement.
Those soulful eyes could take on a thousand problems. It was hardly surprising she longed to be a doctor, and she’d make it. Mihovil knew she would.
“Is everything OK?”
“Actually, I do have something on my mind,” he admitted.
She tilted her head. He thought she was going to take his hand – he wished with all his heart that she would – but that was never going to happen.
Instead he sat on his hands. This was so difficult.
“It’s about my father. He’s got himself into a horrendous mess. Oh, Ildie, I don’t know what to do for the best.”
“Tell me about it. You’re always helping me with my problems. Maybe I can help with yours.”
* * * *