Things Can Change in a Flash
My mom didn’t wait for me to open the door, she just came inside, ready with her questions.
“Victoria, are you still writing? Didn’t you say you’re
going out with your friends?”
“Yeah, but I still have twenty minutes or so.” I wasn’t very fond of
my mom’s control-freak moments, but then again, she was almost always right. Just like now, when I had completely forgotten about the appointment but couldn’t admit it to her. I’d never hear the end of it if I did.
“Who is going with you? Oh, never mind! But I sure hope you’re going to change your clothes because this messy holiday elf look of yours is not for the public’s eyes.”
Even though I knew exactly how quickly my stupid remarks could make her angry, I simply had to ask, “Why not?” I couldn’t hold my tongue.
“Well, you are wearing a holiday sweater with lights and the elf slippers three months before Christmas! We can manage your house style, but I don’t think people outside are ready for it. And, Victoria? Please lower the music down, it’s too early into the season to receive the complains about Christmas music.” She just rolled her eyes at me and stepped out of the room, mumbling silently to herself.
I turned down the volume right away.
Of course, it hadn’t even crossed my mind to go out without changing. But I loved to provoke my mom every once in a while. It’s what kept her nerves in great shape.
Well, this is me . . .
I am Victoria. For friends and family, it’s Vicky. I’ll get straight to the point: I come from a wealthy family. We are fortunate enough to have everything we need but it wasn’t like that when I was a kid.
The main difference between us and the majority of families in the Manhattan area is fairly clear—I don’t want to offend anyone, but my parents went through a war when my sister and I were very young. Afterward, they created a life for us from scratch, while being carried on the wings of goodwill that people offered when we needed it the most. Mom, being a full-time writer, had time to take care of my sister and me, while our dad always worked hard enough to create something of his own. He still worked at his financial advising company, which is slightly bigger than before. Even though my mom isn’t happy about him piling on working hours, the workaholic in him is stronger than anything; my dad doesn’t seem to know how to stop.
Our parents taught my sister and me proper behavior, without privilege, from day one.
Well, there was one privilege . . . but only thanks to a good-hearted man, my dad’s friend, who settled us in his hotel after we came to America to escape the war which was raging back home. He helped us without hesitating in the past when he offered the discounted rate for the apartment until my parents got back on their feet.
A good heart never ceases to amaze me.
We live in an apartment on the eleventh floor of One Plaza condominium. My favorite part of living here, without a doubt, is Central Park—a park where the four seasons leave their mark throughout the year. Anyone who lives in a huge metropolis surrounded by skyscrapers and hectic traffic and life will entirely understand what am I talking about: we yearn for a little freshness.
Let me tell you one more thing: nothing can beat Central Park winters, when fluffy snowflakes put all the trees and flowers into a two-month deep sleep, tucking the entire city into a beautiful white fairy tale.
Of course, not everyone likes winter, but I take a slightly brighter point of view and never complain about the wet snow.
“Victoria!” my mom shouted from the kitchen. The smell of freshly baked croissants filled the air. “Your friends are already downstairs! Are you ready?”
The way she always shouts instead of coming to tell me what’s on her mind is something I’ll never understand. It seems my mother likes to show off her lung capacity.
“Not quite yet! Tell them I’ll be there in five!”
Usually, I beat a Swiss watch when it comes to punctuality, but this is the season when the people who know me are used to my day-dreaming and forgetting things because in my free time I listen to music, watch Christmas movies, cook, or write in my diary. I still had to get dressed.
Everything was already on my bed. I had prepared it the evening before. Together with my friends, Tom, Nicholas, Lisa, and Annabeth, I was going to the gala opening of the ice-skating season, and the best part was that we got to wear masks.
My transformation for this special occasion was Zorro, the female version of it. This look combined perfectly with the red shoes Aunt Maggie had bought me for my twenty-sixth birthday—because, of course, there was an 80 percent chance we were going to the club afterward. Obviously, I had every black detail, from the hat and cape, to the whip and silky laced mask that covered my eyes making me feel more comfortable about being dressed like this and walking with other lovely weirdos in the middle of New York City.
The only thing I didn’t have in my possession was a fake sword, but Nicholas was taking care of it for me.
“Mom, I’m going now! Please tell Dad if I call him once it’s a sign to pick me up at nine sharp, if he isn’t too tired, but if I do it twice, we’re going to the club, and I’ll get an Uber. Kiss!” I ran like the Flash through the apartment.
I knew it wasn’t kind of me not to take my sister ice-skating with us, but my friends wanted to go to the club afterward, and she’s too young to enter one.
After the short elevator ride down, I zipped out the front door of the hotel. “Hey, Walter! How are your wife and kid?” As usual, I just flew past the doorman without waiting for the reply. But he under-stood; it was our daily routine.
I heard his pleasantly rusty sixty-five-year-old voice: “Everything’s fine! Victoria, be careful on that ice, strange things are happening today!”
In front one of many New York’s yellow cabs, Superman, Little Red Riding Hood, a police officer, and Tom were eagerly waiting for me. Actually, Tom was the only one who surprised me with his outfit, because he said he would never put on a disguise. Yet he had a huge stomach, an elegant black suit with the typical white pinstripes, his hair soaked in gel (which brought out a resemblance to his father), and a red rose in his pocket, along with white cotton inside his mouth, revealing his identity for the day: Don Corleone. Seeing my skeptical look, he put his hands up.
“I can explain! So, my mom always wants me to dress up like my dad, and all of dad’s punchlines are about The Godfather, so for the first time in my life, I decided to make them happy and combine both. Voila, but just for one evening! I’m sure I don’t have to tell you they had tears in their eyes and did a photoshoot before I left the house. Unfortunately for me—now they have proof. The only thing I couldn’t go along with is the mustache.” Tom shrugged his shoulders indifferently. Due to the cotton in his mouth, he was definitely talking like Don Corleone.
“I’ve always hated mustaches!”
I didn’t have to add anything.
“Girls, you look amazing!” I said to my female friends. “Thanks!” Annabeth was probably the kindest and most honest human being on this planet—I couldn’t tell if she was blushing or if it was part of the Little Red Riding Hood costume.
On the other side, Lisa made a great cop, looking gorgeous and in style. She was a well-known fashion addict. “I know, I know,” she said, “my costume is not as original as theirs, but I feel more comfortable wearing a uniform. You know me!” To other people, Lisa sometimes seemed shallow because of her high-pitched voice and the way she planned each detail of her outfits, but she was also an intelligent student of architecture.
“Ah, Nicholas! Seriously?” I said to Nicholas. He looked confused. “What’s wrong?”
“Couldn’t you have been Batman, Dr. Strange, Wolverine, Green Arrow? You had to be Superman like probably a thousand other people today?”
“I don’t care. At least this way I don’t need to wear a mask, so if
you need me, you’ll be able to recognize me from far away. And I like Superman’s powers. Maybe his laser eyes could help me melt the ice tonight so we can spend some quality time somewhere warm.” Sarcasm was Nicholas’s trademark.
“Okay, okay! I give up!” I said.
On our way to Rockefeller Center, we talked about every topic possible: we didn’t meet up often, as we were all at different colleges, grad schools or jobs.
“How come they opened the ice-skating season on Columbus Day?” asked Lisa. “It’s been bugging me since the beginning of September.”
“I wouldn’t know. I did ask my dad about it, but as usual, he’s not into finding stuff out.” My father always said that family comes first, then business, and afterward, everything else. And he wasn’t particularly interested in the third thing.
I kept my answers short out of respect for my friends. At this time of year, I had a tendency to finish absolutely every conversation with a Christmas-related topic, so I tried hard not to be the old me. I had promised myself I would talk less and listen more.
When we arrived at our destination, the magnificence of Rockefeller Center overcame me once again with its charm and left me speechless, unsure where to look first.
The entire skating rink was illuminated with small, bright LED lights in the form of snowflakes, and the rink’s edges were decorated with large snowflakes made of fake soft feathers, from the smallest to the largest, which were over nine feet tall, connecting at the very end to create a beautiful arch with a silver ‘Welcome’ sign.
We watched a fantastic show on the ice, with professional ice skaters dressed as fairytale, cartoon, superhero, and movie characters, all accompanied by light notes from movie soundtracks. Their costumes were perfect, and they completely pulled us into the storytelling with their dancing. It was hard to tell the difference between imagination and reality, and their graceful movements, done with so much ease, kept us all entranced.
Oh, the Christmas tree? THE Christmas tree? It was even bigger and prettier than last year, with bordeaux and white decorative balls, feathery angels, stars, snowflakes, crystal icicles, and handmade ornaments from the local artists, in every imaginable shape.
“I’m amazed!” Annabeth squeaked out of happiness. I sat there with a silly grin on my face.
The event’s organization was impeccable. They had tried to make it better than in previous years, and even the mayor’s vastly shorter speech was a big surprise to everyone. Needless to say, it was the first year the crowd had ever given him a long, warm round of applause.
“The ice skating rink is now open for all! You may step on the ice!” a calm voice cut through the crisp air.
I didn’t skate for long, but it gave me a sense of euphoria.
Suddenly, Tom abruptly took my hand.
“Vicky, did you see they have catering on ice? Can I bring you something to eat?” He couldn’t help but talk to me like I was a little child.
“Oh, yes, please! Bring me two mini tuna sandwiches. I saw they have it on the menu. I skipped dinner tonight. I couldn’t stop writing diary!” My stomach was growling at the mention of food.
“And bring me some donuts, please!” Lisa yelled, but Tom had already turned his back on her.
People smiling from ear to ear, their red cheeks pinched by the cold, danced with the slow, romantic music. When they stepped on that ice, they were truly themselves: relaxed and grateful they had the time to share happiness with other people.
I was moving slowly, just listening to the music and not thinking about anything else, when my thoughts were interrupted by the firm hand of the Flash.
“Dance with me, Victoria!” he said softly, taking me into the middle of the crowd.
How did he know my name? How did he recognize me, when I didn’t know him?
Our parents teach us not to talk to strangers, no matter what age we are . . . especially in a city as big as New York. And it’s even worse to dance with a stranger!
But this felt like an exception. There was something in his voice that told me I knew him somehow . . .
“I’m sorry I can’t remember, but who am I having the honor to dance with?” I was confused, hearing my shaky voice and feeling the familiar goosebumps overtaking my body—not from fear, but from a weird connection between us, something private in his touch.
“Shhh, just let the magic of the moment speak for us!.” His voice was in my memories somewhere, so soft, yet profound at the same time.
My instincts were screaming that I knew this mysterious Flash, and I wasn’t entirely able to enjoy the moment while I was trying to figure out whose face was hiding beneath the Flash mask. In spite of the people around us, we dance-skated with such ease. His movements made my senses going off the charts with emotion and attraction.
Over his shoulders, I could see my friends giving me surprised looks. Tom waved his hands all over the place trying to gesticulate his questions.
I needed to break the tense silence as Flash and I danced to “Last Christmas.” “Where do we know each other from?”
He smiled mysteriously. “Deep down, you know where . . . You’re going to remember. Some things you can’t forget, Vicky . . . at least not twice.”
I still didn’t understand. “Twice?”
My mysterious superhero hopelessly shook his shoulders, and with a little sadness in his voice, said, “You already forgot about me once. I sure hope it won’t happen again.” He twirled me and then disappeared into the crowd.
I have to admit; prior to this, I had been hoping for more mystery in my life, but this was completely unexpected.
Too nervous and confused to start searching for him, I went back to my friends, who fired question after question at me.
“Who was that dashing Flash?” Lisa was always the loudest person in the room. I could hear her voice from miles away.
“To be honest, I still don’t know . . .” I was only half-aware of her interrogation, as my mind was rewinding the previous moments, trying to figure out anything that could help. Nothing.
“Has your mother never taught you talking to strangers is a bad thing, especially during nighttime in New York?” Tom couldn’t hide his jealousy anymore. “In this crowd, he could’ve kidnapped you in a heartbeat!”
I usually didn’t pay any attention to his behavior, but this time the sarcasm just came out of my mouth. We were twenty-six, and he was still treating me like a silly girl in front of our friends. “It would be impossible under your hawk-eye surveillance.” The moment I said it, I wanted to take it back. It was the first time I had acknowledged his feelings. But in the embarrassment of the moment, the Tom-wants-to-be-my-boyfriend situation wasn’t my priority. Sometimes I seemed heedless of his feelings, but that was only because he was my best friend and I wanted it to stay that way.
He knew better than anyone I wasn’t completely over Brian. Tom was there for me, through tears and heartbreak, but just as the best friend a girl could ask for.
His face was completely red, not so much because of what I’d said, but because he was finally realizing I had friend-zoned him in an ugly way.
“I’m going to get a drink. See you later!” He left as fast as he could. But my mind wasn’t on him. It was still floating toward the secret Flash that knew me so well.
Nicholas was still talking: “Vicky? Earth calling Victoria!”
“I was just thinking how you’re all right.” It was a huge lie. “It’s my mistake, and that won’t happen again.” False sincerity isn’t usually my thing.
Anyhow, my friends were right. I knew that, obviously: my parents wouldn’t have reacted any differently. They were trying to get me to see common sense.
Afterward, I avoided thinking about the Flash and concentrated more on my friends— except for Tom, who tried to evade my apologetic looks for the rest of the night. I decided to call it a day, so my dad picked me up. I just couldn’t bear going to the club and enduring Tom’s coldness. Because when he ignored someone, he took it to the limit.
A Black VW Tuareg stopped at the taxi station, and a familiar face with glasses was smiling at me.
“And how was it?”
“Great! It was better than I expected. Thank you for the tickets, Dad.” I gave him an honest kiss on the cheek but wasn’t planning on telling him what happened. Thanks to the dance with Flash, I was still in seventh heaven.
“No problem. I’ll need the favor back, though.”
“Ha! I knew there was a catch.”
“You know me well.” He smirked, but I could sense his concern.
“Your uncle called yesterday to tell us Marc is finally marrying Maria, and he wanted to know right away if someone is available to come to the wedding.”
“Wait, wait! Back it up, Dad! Marc is getting married? My favorite cousin is getting married, and I’m learning about it like this?” I couldn’t hide my disappointment and anger. Maybe I had been wrong, and distance did play a significant role in human relationships after all, even if it involved family blood.
“Easy, Vicky. Why do you take everything to heart? They can’t only be thinking of you; you two are thousands of miles apart. And your uncle did say they’ve tried to reach your sister and you a couple of times but they just couldn’t. That’s why he finally called me, his brother.”
Apparently, Marc had finally got the courage up to take the important big leap with Maria three weeks ago, and the wedding had already been planned for the next month. Maria had just finished up the classes she had missed after a long period of soul-searching, they were living in their own apartment, and they had saved enough money to cover everything by themselves.
“Unfortunately, your mom and I have obligations with our jobs that can’t be postponed, since we’re obligated by contracts and deadlines, and your sister has a lot of college exams. We all know how your mom can sometimes be over-controlling with you both when it comes to college obligations. She wants to give you and Joanna all the attention she never had. That’s why we thought we could send you to represent the family. Do you like the idea?” He was looking at me more than the road, so he slowed down. He knew I wasn’t very keen on traveling by myself.
I was scared of traveling alone, and I never did—the day I would have to face it alone had come sooner than expected. But, in spite of my initial apprehension, I thought it was a brilliant idea. My mind immediately wandered to the relaxing break grad school, the fun that weddings usually provide, and the fact that I was about to visit Italy after a long absence.
“Okay, don’t stress about it anymore. I’ll gladly go.”
I noticed a flicker of disappointment in my dad’s eyes when he realized he couldn’t do the rest of his Victoria-please-go speech. But then he just looked relieved.
By the time I had reached the house trailing my dad, my mom jumped up cheerfully, pleased with my decision, ready with a thousand questions about my wellbeing and my plans for the trip. She even suggested I should visit my home country while in Italy.
When I was just six years old, we came to New York from Croatia. There was a war at the time, so my mom and dad gathered all the necessary courage to go overseas with two little girls and start a new life, since we had lost every possession. Our love for our small country stayed strong, and every summer and sometimes even winter, we would go there to enjoy the beautiful Croatian coastline as well as the continental side, especially the capital city Zagreb during the Advent time.
Joanna, my younger sister, was bursting with jealousy. This was a family event she wanted to participate in, and I could understand her frustration.
After the typical angry outbursts toward me and our parents, she calmed down fairly quickly, not completely convinced they were going to send me there without her.
This time I didn’t wait for the questions of how, when, and where. I ran to my room to call my friends and tell them the good news that couldn’t wait for tomorrow. A lot of high-pitched screaming was involved.
Nervously, I started to dig through my closet, searching for what to wear, including warm clothes, since winter there was much snowier than in New York. The only thing I didn’t already have was a dress for the occasion.
“Joanna! Oh, Joanna!” I imitated the voice of our mom. “Come to my room, please.”
“Stop yelling and tell me what you need!” She couldn’t hide her anger, so she waited five minutes to come to my room in personal protest.
“Will you go shopping with me?” I knew her weak spot. “Help me find a pretty dress for the reception, and I’ll buy you something in return.”
The moment Joanna heard the word shopping, a sneaky smile came back, and the sparkles in her eyes could brighten the entire room.
While I was waiting for the trip, I tried to do as much as I could to make the hours pass quicker than usual. If nothing else, this pushed the masked Flash out of my mind . . . But I didn’t completely forget. I couldn’t. Not twice, in his words.
Every minute, second, and hour was used wisely while my impatience for the trip grew stronger.
Italy, here I come!
And here is where the impossible became real.