Against her better judgment, but in the spirit of playing nice, Nicole accepted another invitation to go to the movies with Oliver. She showed up twenty minutes before the movie was slated to start, as agreed. A trio of construction workers sat at a table drinking beer and playing cards. The same rubber-faced fisherman that Oliver had shooed out of a booth to make room for her stood at the bar, also drinking beer. Oliver presided alone behind the bar, king crow of the joint.
Nicole approached the bar. "Ciao! Kako si?"
Oliver put on his professional grin. "Hey, hello, hello. Ha-ha, you speak Croatian. How are you. Kako si."
He said it in such a patronizing tone that irritation flashed in Nicole. She attempted to blow it off. "Uh, yea. So, where's your father?"
"Ah, tata, yes. He and Mama are upstairs eating." He mimed eating so Nicole would understand.
Oliver's eyes darted away from her to the trio of workers, who were ordering another round. "Može!" he called jovially to them. He darted his look back to Nicole. "Excuse me. Must work. Ha-ha."
"But-" Nicole tried again, but the crow had flitted away. He left her standing there awkwardly alone while he poured and served the beers. When he returned he asked, "You want something for drink?"
"Um, do we have time?"
"Time? What time? Yes, yes. You sit. You want for drink beer? Pivo? No charge. Gratis."
"Well, thanks, but I don't really drink beer-" Oliver, though, was already pouring it. He ushered her and her unwanted beer to a circular booth. She sat, but he propped on the edge of the table, ready to spring into action should his customers require it.
Nicole tried again, "Aren't we going to be late for the movie?"
"Movie? What movie? You want to go for cinema-house?"
Nicole struggled not to grit her teeth. "We did have plans to go to the movie. It starts in fifteen minutes."
"Ah, yes, but see?" He indicated his four patrons. "Café-bar is busy."
"I thought your father was going to work tonight."
"No, no. I always work Saturday night alone. All alone."
Then why did you invite me to go to the movies with you?! She sipped her cheap beer to stifle the impulse to hurl those words in his face. Teeth clenched to further keep the scream inside, she asked, "Then should I just go alone?"
"No, no. What alone? You stay here at café-bar and drink. Is better. More money for me – ha-ha." He winked to show it was a joke, but Nicole reckoned it wasn't. She took another sip of her beer, again to dampen her anger, then decided to tell Oliver off anyway. However, in walked a pair of regular patrons, whom Nicole vaguely recognized, still in their paint-spattered coveralls. Oliver jumped up to assist them. Nicole sat alone, seething. I fell for it again. I knew Oliver was a flake, and I made plans with him anyway. Why do I keep making plans with this silly crow? I should have made sure Matija or Martina were coming along also. Ugh, if we were back in Denver, I would never have made any plans with him at all. But, no, for some reason I thought it would be a charming idea to stick myself in the middle of this little backwater. Well, the town may be beautiful, but it's boring as hell-
A voice, deepened in the national habit, interrupted Nicole's thoughts by offering to buy her a drink. She looked up to see it was the newly-arrived pair, a ruggedly handsome man of forty-something and his gorgeous younger companion. It was Ruggedly Handsome who had offered the drink, but Gorgeous Younger was staring right at her. Nicole marshaled her thoughts from English to Croatian so she could construct a sentence telling them she already had a drink but that they were welcome to join her. She managed with simple words and bad grammar that had them grinning, but they accepted. Ruggedly Handsome slid in to the booth next to her, and Gorgeous Younger next to him.
Nicole apologized for her bad Croatian, they complimented her as having good Croatian, then all introduced themselves: Ruggedly handsome as Ivan and Gorgeous Younger as Marko. The men spoke no English, so Nicole practiced her Croatian. She found herself warming to the task as she discovered she could say many of the things she wanted, one way or another. Ivan and Marko were patient, chuckling merrily at some of her more outlandish attempts. They seemed genuinely pleased that the 'amerikanka' was speaking Croatian at all. Interestingly, alcohol made her more fluent. When she finished her beer, Marko ordered another for her, but she laughingly changed it to wine, in Croatian, and paying Oliver no mind. If she thought of him, she would grow furious all over again, and she was actually having a good time now. When Oliver brought her wine, he sat in the far side of the booth, sliding right up next to Nicole, but she was listening very carefully to a joke Marko was telling. She didn't get it, but she laughed when Ivan laughed. Oliver tried to join in, but the rubber-faced fisherman called for his tab; Oliver flitted away. Nicole, still laughing at the joke she hadn't gotten, made eye contact with Marko; she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. She didn't notice Oliver noticing.
Ivan, who spoke more slowly and clearly than Marko – Matija would know him for a Slavonian by his accent – started telling Nicole about the work he and Marko did. Nicole sipped her wine and listened, head buzzing pleasantly.
"Wait," Nicole said in Croatian. In the same, "What is odjivać?"
" Odjivać," Ivan repeated, as if that explained it, then he made a twisting motion with his hand. Marko also made a twisting motion.
"Oh, a screwdriver," Nicole said.
"Screw-dri-ver," she enunciated. Ivan and Marko both tried to repeat, and Nicole giggled. Oliver returned and joined the laughter. "Screwdriver," he said. Nicole ignored him. Still in Croatian she said, "In Americans, screwdriver is same a drink. Vodka and orange juice."
"You want another drink?" Marko asked. To Oliver, "Get her a vodka-juice."
"No, no," Nicole protested, but Oliver was gone. "I say, ah, screwdriver is drink."
"No," Ivan disagreed. "A screwdriver is this." He made the twisting motion again. Marko did it again, too, and this time Nicole joined in. "Ok," she agreed.
Oliver returned with the vodka-juice. "Oh, Bože," Nicole said. "I will be, how do you say…" She glanced at Oliver, "drunk?"
"Pijan," he answered.
To Marko and Ivan she said, "Ja ču biti pijan."
"Pijana," Ivan corrected. "You are a girl."
"Da, djevojka," Marko repeated, raising his glass in cheer to her being a girl.
Oliver took his chance, "Moja djevojka," my girl, but Nicole wasn't listening because she was also raising her glass to being a girl. But Ivan heard. "Really?" he asked Oliver.
"Yes," Oliver answered.
"Excuse me," Ivan apologized.
"What?" Marko asked.
"She's Oliver's girlfriend," Ivan explained. However, due to grammar, Nicole didn't quite understand the meaning. "I am what girl?" she asked.
Ivan shot her a funny look, and Oliver said to them, obviously thinking she still wouldn't understand, "Moja djevojka i baš kurva."
"What?!" Nicole yelled, the full force of her rage returning. She glared at Oliver.
"Nothing, nothing. Joke, ha-ha."
"Did you just say I'm your girlfriend and a whore?!"
"Pa, nothing. Joke only, ha-"
"Don't 'ha-ha' in that stupid little way you have!" Nicole yelled, finally indulging her pique. "I am not your girlfriend-"
"Hey, calm down-"
"-and I am not a whore!"
"Hey, no yelling, no, no."
"Don't tell me not to yell!" She pushed him to move so she could get out of the booth. "You treat me like I should be your-your… groupie or something!"
Oliver tried to assert his manliness, deepening his voice to say, "Hey, no yelling in café-bar."
"Fuck your café-bar." Finally extricated form the booth, she stood before him quivering in fury. "And fuck you!" She grabbed the vodka-juice and threw the drink in his face. She slammed the glass down, turned on heel, and stormed out of the café.