The doorbell rang twice, and each time a different person was let into the house. The first time it was the plumber. He was a man by the name of Gabbani, and he had only just started plumbing, but he was grateful for the things he had and was never one to complain a lot. The second time the doorbell rang, there was the pizza man, standing like a delivery angel complete with a steaming box of pepperoni pie and a bottle of root beer. He had also just started working as a pizza man.
It was his first job, seeing as he was a very young fellow, and he wasn’t nearly as grateful for what he had as the plumber. In fact, he just wanted to get done with the delivery so he could go see his girlfriend and they could go eat, well, anything but pizza. He was just so tired of pizza. He never wanted to see it again, or smell it again, or taste it again, or anything. He wanted nothing to do with the stuff. Fortunately for him, he didn’t really need the job. Oh, no, not Monterosso. Monterosso’s family had money by the gobs. Absolute gobs of it. The only reason he was at a job in the first place was because his father wanted him to have the experience for when he started interviewing for other, better jobs in the future.
The third person in this story was the lady that opened the door to both of these men, and she was a very slight old woman whose name was Susan. She had straight down the back gray hair that used to be blonde and also blue and one time it was pink, but that really was a long time ago. So long ago, in fact, that Susan couldn’t remember the colors her hair had been in the past very well at all. She did, however, remember that she had called the plumber because her toilet was broken and that she definitely didn’t order pizza.
“I didn’t order pizza.” She opened the door and saw Monterosso standing there with his neat little pizza box and moved to slam it back in his face but stopped. “Did I?”
“Well,” Monterosso was not known for his manners, “If you called the pizza place and you put in an order then I’m going to take a WILD guess and say yeah, you did order pizza.” He stepped past Susan and set her pizza on the hallway table. “I’ll be right out… But I need the money first. It’ll be fourteen dollars. Twelve for pizza, two for root beer.”
“I can’t eat pizza though, and I don’t like root beer. Why would I go and order something I don’t like, young man?”
“I don’t KNOW. Maybe you are a crazy old kook and you forget things or something, but what do I care? I just want to get my money and get out of your house, lady. It smells like mothballs and… mmm…” Monterosso took a deep breath, “Desperation.”
“Dude, I just want the money. I don’t care if you ordered it or not. I’m not taking it back to the pizza place. No one wants it.”
“Did your parents want you?” It was the plumber, the darling Gabbani, who said that just as he strode out of the bathroom. He had just fixed the toilet and had also just finishing overhearing the young pizza man be very rude to Susan. “I think you should apologize to this kind lady.” He set his toolbox down and took his wallet out of his overall pocket. “If you apologize to her like you should, I can pay for the pizza. It smells good and I’d be happy to take it home.”
“I didn’t say anything that would warrant an apology!” Monterosso threw his hands up in the air. He was getting tired of old people. An old lady not knowing if she ordered pizza and now an old plumber guy telling him to apologize for nothing. “I didn’t.” He crossed his arms and decided he would just wait until someone gave him his money already.
“Apologize or take the pizza back.” Gabbani would never let a kid of his own (if he’d ever had a kid, that is) speak to an old lady like that. Then again, he wasn’t going to let that happen now either. The punk would repent or he would regret his actions.
“I really don’t think it should be that much of a problem, I can just go grab my purse and both of you can be on your ways…” Susan was saying, but neither the plumber or the pizza man was listening. They just glared at each other, death rays shooting from their cold eyes.
“No, he can’t take your money, ma’am. You didn’t order it and he can’t take your money. It could have been a prank or something, but either way, I’ll handle it as soon as he says he’s sorry for calling you an old kook.”
“But what if I am an old kook? Look, the kid probably is stressed or depressed or anxious or otherwise mentally addled. All the kids these days, they have these different problems than we do. Like the planet melting and all the polar bears dying and also, the new viruses and that.”
Monterosso glared at Susan. “I am not mentally addled. I just want the money so I can go see my girlfriend and get home. I have school in the morning.”
Gabbani didn’t care about girlfriends and school in the morning. He cared about justice and the freedom to not pay for something you didn’t want. He opened his mouth to protest the kid’s excuses, but then, in the living room of Susan, the television flickered to life and a news reporter was announcing something.
“People of Chardot, we have an announcement to make. As of now, everyone must stay where they are if they are able to. If you are at home, stay there. If you are at a friend’s home and they have room for you, stay there. If you are capable at all of staying, don’t leave. If you try to go home and do not have a reasonable reason to do so, you will be apprehended and executed by the general Tuttibrutes. They will not hesitate to put you out for the common good. The pandemic is rising, do not leave if you can stay.”
The television flicked back off.
Susan stared at Gabboni and Monterosso.
Gabboni stared at Monterosso and Susan.
Monterosso looked towards the door.
“What should we do?” Susan asked them, because she technically had four extra bedrooms in her two story house and her grandchildren always were visiting her, enough that she had stocked her pantry full and bought new toothbrushes last week.
“I can’t stay here.” Monterosso suddenly really didn’t care about money. He just wanted to go home. He didn’t want to stay somewhere with a weird old lady who thought he was mentally addled and an abrasive plumber with a vendetta against him. “Please, guys, I can’t stay here.”
“You may have to.” Gabboni didn’t want to stay either, but he wanted to not get executed by the general Tuttibrutes even more. They were practically running the town, the little cookie buggers. “Ma’am, do you have extra rooms, in case we did have to stay?”
“Indeed. I have four extra rooms. For my grandchildren when they come stay with me.” Her grandchildren hadn’t been able to come visit for a while now, but it wasn’t worth mentioning. “You’d be welcome to stay if it comes to that.”
“I guess I’d better call the chief Tuttibrute and ask what he thinks of the situation. My house isn’t nearby, so it may be for the best if the pandemic really is getting to be so bad… I didn’t know it was.” Gabboni got his phone from his other overall pocket and headed towards the kitchen to call the chief, whose shower he had fixed on several occasions.
While he was on the phone, Susan decided she’d better figure out what to do with Monterosso. She guessed she’d better start with introductions. “My name is Susan, by the way.”
“I’m Monterosso. I’m sorry I called you an old kook. I didn’t mean to be rude to you, I’m just kind of tired and I wanted to see my girlfriend. I haven’t seen her in a few weeks, so it was going to be like a little reunion thing. I’d better call my parents, and then I’ll call her.”
So Monterosso called his parents and they agreed that he should stay with the nice lady Susan until things subsided at least a little bit. Then he dialed the girlfriend, Elisa, while Susan went back to her bedroom to think dinner out.
“Oh, Monte, hello!” Elisa did not sound disappointed to know that Monterosso would not be seeing her that night. In fact, she sounded somewhat relieved.
“Elisa, I won’t be able to make it tonight, but you’ve probably already heard that. Where are you?”
“Um, I’m at a friend’s house...”
Monterosso did not like the um word there in front of the sentence. That word meant she had to hesitate when telling him where she was and while he had never been particularly over possessive, he didn’t much care for blatant lies. “Are you going to have to stay there?”
“Yeah, I probably will. Where are you?” There was laughing (deep laughing) in the background of Elisa’s phone call and Monterosso’s heart stirred unsettledly in his chest.
“I’m, ah, also at a friend’s house.”
“Really? What friend?”
“Monte, you have a friend named Susan? Why didn’t you tell me about her? Why are you there?”
“She’s not really my friend. I was delivering pizza to her house when the stay there orders fell. I’m here with her and a plumber named Gabboni.”
“I’m with Fede and Benji and Vana and Palma and her sister and their neighbor.”
“Were you at a party, then?”
“Yeah, I would have invited you, but you were working.”
“Why were you at a party? There’s a pandemic going on and you went to a party? Why would you do that?”
“You’re still delivering pizza!”
“That’s different. That’s my job. Elisa, you should have told me you were going to a party before I planned our whole date. I thought it would be nice to see you again after such a long time, being that we’re dating and all.”
There was too long of a pause on the other side. “Maybe we should break up, though. I was going to say that tonight anyway. I don’t really feel like it’s working out for me. Thanks for everything, but bye!” There was another rumbling laugh in the background and then a click and Monterosso was all alone. He dropped his phone. Gabboni was also getting off the phone, and his news wasn’t any better because the chief had ordered them to stay where they were like everyone else. When he walked out of the kitchen and saw Monterosso on the verge of tears, he had to ask what was wrong.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Not mentally addled or whatever Susan said I was. I’m good. I’m okay. It’s alright, right? It was probably for the better of things anyway.”
“Elisa broke up with me. She was supposed to come to this whole date I had planned for her but then it turns out she was actually at this party with our old friends and no one invited me because I was working.”
Gabboni crossed his arms again. “They were having a party in the middle of a pandemic?”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t have gone anyway.”
“Then I guess you really aren’t mentally addled after all. I’m sorry if I scared you with the… Before when I wanted you to apologize to Susan. She reminds me of my mother.”
“Do I really?” Susan had left her room after deciding she would make tuna casserole for dinner. “Do I really remind you of your mother?”
“Yeah, sure.” Gabboni smiled for the first time that night, his teeth all there and bright white, like he brushed them regularly after meals. “You dress like her. You wanted to let a little punk get away with stuff like she would. You’re not kicking us out like she wouldn’t kick us out. And I’m guessing you’ve already planned a dinner for us? Because she would.”
“I actually was thinking I’d make a casserole, if you two were hungry, but while I was doing that you could go upstairs and choose a room. There’s four. And the bathrooms have towels and toothbrushes. You,” she looked at Monterosso, “You maybe could find some pajamas to wear of my grandson’s. He’s not much bigger than you are, though he’s only twelve so they may not be your favorite style. And I have nothing for you to wear, Gabboni.”
“That’s okay. Also… You don’t have to make a casserole.”
“Well, I’m really quite a good cook, you know. I think you might like the casserole I make. It has a lot of cheese and… oh, are you a vegan?”
Gabboni shook his head. “No, but we already have dinner.”
Monterosso had to laugh at that. Not rudely, though. He’d already learned that lesson enough for one day. “Yeah, we have a pizza and root beer.”
“Oh, that’s right!”
Gabboni and Monterosso shot each other a covert look. They knew they’d be in for a ride the next few days or however long they’d be staying. Monterosso figured he’d be busy enough taking care of Susan that he wouldn’t have to think too much about Elisa. “That’s right alright.”
Gabboni picked up the box and the root beer and carried them into the kitchen. “Who's ready for dinner?”