Felicia was tall and beautiful, with flowing hair and long legs and a figure that most of Italy would envy her for, with curves in just the right places and the perfect fashion sense to pull it off. She had eyes that shone when she did not even smile. They were even brighter when she did smile, which was all the time. Felicia was smart, with a university master's degree in restaurant management, and she had gone to culinary school for some courses, to learn the craft.
Felicia was everything that Ana also wanted to be, and Ana had not even met the woman.
“Be nice,” Ana’s mother told her as if she had been looking into Ana’s head, “It would do you good to have a good relationship with Giovanni’s daughter. A little rivalry is good between businesses, of course, but in the end, you will have to work together.”
Ana had long learned that it was best if she nodded along, so she leaned back in the chair. Around them, the cooks had started preparing for the day, but it was Wednesday, and that was the day for a special treat for all customers - homemade pasta from Ana’s mother. It had been one of the dishes, along with Ana’s grandfather’s legendary pizza creations that had made their pizzeria famous over forty years ago.
A tradition Ana would not break, not when she now finally was the sole owner of the pizzeria.
Ana shot a glance to the outside of the pizzeria, the tiny part of the big front windows that were visible from where she was sitting. But no one seemed to be waiting and she looked back to her mother.
Who had invited Felicia over, to Ana’s restaurant, to talk about the future of the businesses.
Watching her mother bustling around in the kitchen was still pleasant. Even if her movements had gotten slower with age, she still moved with so much grace, and her fingers were still quick in cutting the pasta.
It was only when Ana finally had the dish in front of her and she had finished, it, and had had her espresso afterward, she looked outside again.
Felicia also had dimples and an infectious laugh, as Ana found out, and she did not have to force herself to pull Felicia close during the cheek kisses that they exchanged as a greeting.
One of the things that Ana had not known before she had taken over the pizzeria from her parents was how it required her to play nice with her neighbors. But now that she was in the role, she loved it. The numbers showed that it worked, getting just the perfect mix of local and tourist customers into the pizzeria to make her feel proud of herself.
And if that handling of the business side of the relationships meant to stumble home after a bar opening, wrapped up in winter clothing but with cold hands, at 5 AM? Well, Ana liked it even more.
It was a pretty good stress relief anyway, even if she knew that she was going to regret it tomorrow morning in the kitchen.
“Ana, wait up!” Felicia’s voice came from behind her.
But at least she was not the only one not going to be on the top of her A-game tomorrow.
Ana looked over her shoulder to see Felicia following her, to see her gaining some steps as Ana forced herself to slow down. ‘Be nice,’ told herself. That voice inside her head sounded like her mother's.
Like with most interactions with Felicia, she tried to channel her mother and her interactions with Giovanni and his wife and how her mother had managed to keep the business rivalry out of their relationships. She was not sure if she had the same success as her mother. But it was also hard to see Felicia as anything but the furious sales hostess that she was in the streets when calling out offers to customers.
In the beginning, Ana might have struggled to keep up, but she was nothing if determined.
Felicia reached her and fell into place next to her, and with how small the street was and with a small construction going on at the side, she was close enough for her arm to brush against Ana. The temperatures had dropped in fall and Felicia wore a fluffy coat, obviously pretty warm and with pretty red details. Had Ana seen the coat on anyone else, she would have asked where Felicia had gotten it. She looked good.
“You look good,” Ana told Felicia, and then she almost groaned at herself saying this out loud. She had had too much to drink. But the drinks had been free, and the music good, and she would make some deals with the new owners in the future, maybe some shared promotion. Still. She did not need to say this.
“Oh,” Felicia replied, clearly flustered for a moment. It was a rare picture: Her cheeks were flushed, that much Ana could also see in the low lights of the street laterns and her mouth slightly open as if she had been just about to say something herself.
Felicia had a nicely shaped mouth. A kissable mouth, as one of Ana’s former lovers would have said about it.
Ana was glad she managed to at least not say that part as Felicia and she walked home together.
Still, the conversation was awkward. Normally, alcohol made Ana an even better conversationalist, but still in her mind, she struggled with how to talk to Felicia. Should she mention the upcoming rise in taxes that she had heard about? Should she mention that they might have to pull a few extra shifts at the pizzeria to make up for that, to make sure that they could pay them, if customers - tourists especially - started to gravitate towards more nontraditional restaurants in the city, with vegan options and the like?
But it felt both too intimate and too distant, too professional, to talk about that with Felicia, here and now.
So Ana kept quiet, even when her mind was spinning, and let Felicia talk about the party-slash-opening that they had just left and some of their mutual acquaintances. At least it was enough to carry them over until they reached the street.
Ana probably had been in the apartment that Felicia was living in now before, back when she had been a child. Back when she had not even been really helping out in the pizzeria, except for clearing tables. Back when her mother had been friends with Giovanni. It was his apartment that Felicia was living in now. As far as Ana knew and had heard from her parents, he - the same as them - now lived just outside the city in his house.
As they had reached Felicia’s pizzeria and with it the house she was living in, she paused and smiled at Ana, and then went in for the kiss on the cheeks.
Ana let her, but she could feel the color creep into her face.
“Sleep well, Ana,” Felicia said, stepped away. “This was nice. We should do it again.”
“Sure,” Ana said before she could think about it.
Felicia nodded and turned away. The street was empty except for them, and Ana felt warm, even with the cold wind howling through the narrow street. It was getting colder each day.
Just a few steps away, Felicia paused and turned back, just looking at Ana, then she said, “Do you want to come up for an espresso? It’s pretty early already.”
A tiny part of Ana laughed at the fact that she thought this was a pick-up line. No, this was just Felicia being nice.
Still, Ana surprised herself when she said yes.
Felicia laughed and threw her an air kiss, as she led up the stairs.
It was a pick-up line.
Ana stopped counting the kisses after that first one, pressed close in the door to the apartment, so close that she did not know where her own body ended and Felicia began. Felicia's hands were hot on her skin and had a good, firm grip from kneading dough.
In the morning, Ana left early to get back to the pizzeria for prep time. She could not disappoint her cooks like that, she told herself. She debated on leaving Felicia a note, or a kiss, or anything like that, really, but in the end, she decided to murmur her goodbye at the door, unsure if the still sleeping Felicia had even heard it.
It did not matter, Ana told herself, as she crept out of the apartment.
The sex had been amazing, but it was clear that this had been a one-night thing, a drunken tumble. They were business rivals after all and Ana had enough on her mind keeping the pizzeria alive. She did not have time for complications.
So, when she noticed that she had accidentally taken Felicia’s coat in the early morning, it was too awkward to give it back, and she kept it.
The only problem with this plan was that Felicia did not keep to the rules. Ana flushed and almost stumbled over her words as she was calling out the promotions to the tourists, when, all of sudden, Felicia had paused and. And. Blew Ana a kiss.
Ana looked away, quickly.
She was working, she told herself. The two tourists, a couple in their sixties, looked confused for a moment and Ana forced herself to keep it together. She could not afford to lose any customers. She ignored Felicia and continued and when she next looked up, Felicia was not even looking over anymore.
Ana’s ears were still burning.
It had been Maria’s idea. The woman had lived in the street between the two pizzerias for as long as Ana remembered. Ana had grown up with sweets from her, and if she went through her family tree, she would probably even find some distant connection they had.
As it was, Maria was not only a neighbor, respected in their small community, but before she had retired here, she had had four successful restaurants in the north. It made sense for Ana to turn to her with her questions.
Because of course, the city had raised the taxes.
Some nights, Ana had wanted to cry, but she was not that kind of person. Ana was a go-getter, and if the city raised the taxes and if tourists too often chose the restaurants with giant, cheap menus, that just meant that Ana needed to work on that and with what she had.
So when Maria said that she needed some new inspiration, Ana agreed.
So when Maria told her to meet her in the kitchen of the pizzeria the next morning, Ana agreed.
So when Maria came in the morning, Ana opened the door and Felicia was right behind Maria… Ana let them both in.
“You have so many great ideas together,” Maria said to them. Ana glanced over to Felicia from the corner of her eye. Had she asked to come here or was she as surprised as Ana?
When she noticed Felicia glancing back, Ana quickly focused back on Maria.
“You need to have a unique selling point if you want to gain some customers back,” Maria said.
Ana nodded. “My grandfather’s pizza--”
“No, no,” Maria interrupted. “You need something new. And I have absolute confidence that you together will find something. You are both smart, young woman. Get to work now.” She nodded, and Ana could not help but nod as well.
She looked over to Felicia again and saw her smile, just a little bit, and maybe this would be okay.
And, surprisingly, it was. It was strange, of course, to work with Felicia when before she had tried to keep their professional life apart. It was fun, and Ana could not remember the last time she had laughed so much in the kitchen. And maybe, she could admit that just maybe she had been wrong there.
Maybe she had been wrong about many things.
The Feliciana was something she could have not come up with on her own.
Felicia was the one to break the silence. “It’s good,” she said, “This is so good. Really, really good.”
It was. “It is,” Ana said, and she swallowed, and Felicia still had the half-eaten slice in her hand, but she was smiling and there was flour in her hair and on her fingers, and she looked just as tired as Ana was but happy.
So Ana put her slice down, stepped up to Felicia, and kissed her.
And when Felicia smiled into the kiss before she kissed back, Ana knew that it had been the right decision.