“Tutor of the Heart” by Nicole Zuleger

   “You’re ten minutes late, Brady,” Sophia chided, not looking up from her book on French culture.

   Brady gave her a goofy grin and sat down across from her. “Well, I lost track of time at band practice. We’re working on a new song and it’s going to be a big hit. Do you want to hear it?” He searched for the track on his phone and started to play it.

   “Brady!” Sophia exclaimed, taking his phone and muting the volume. “We’re in a library. People are studying,” she hissed. Brady smiled sheepishly and reached for his phone, but Sophia placed it out of his reach. “No distractions. You asked me to teach you Italian. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I’ll be damned if you don’t know at least basic Italian by the end of this session.”

   “Fine,” Brady sighed. “Teach me, oh wise one.”

   Sophia rolled her eyes and closed her French book. She took out her beginner exercises on Italian and passed them to Brady. “The language of love and wine isn’t easy. Why do you even want to learn it? I thought you already met your language requirement.”

   “I just…had a sudden urge to learn it,” Brady shrugged. “Besides, when you get angry you switch languages. Now I’ll know if you’re making fun of me or not.”

   “You’re an idiot. A beautiful idiot, but an idiot all the same,” Sophia teased. She tapped the worksheets in front of them. “Let’s start with these, okay?”

   “Buona notte. I know that one,” Brady examined the worksheet. “You say that on the phone to me if you’ve been around your mom a lot.”

   “What does it mean?” Sophia prodded.

   “Goodnight, dumbass,” Brady grinned.

   Sophia rolled her eyes. “How about this one? Ciao.”

   “Hello, dumbass,” Brady answered.

   “And…come stai?” Sophia continued.

   “Uh…how are you doing, dumbass?” Brady guessed, looking at the picture.

   Sophia covered the worksheet with her hand, making Brady look up at her. “Why in the world do you keep adding dumbass to the end of every sentence?” she asked.

   Brady shrugged “Because you only use Italian on me when I’m doing something stupid. I just always assumed there must be an implied dumbass in everything you say. Italian has an implied dumbass rule.”

   “That’s…that’s not a thing, Brady,” Sophia said, trying very hard not to laugh, though a smile crept onto her face.

   “But it definitely made you smile,” Brady boasted. “So being stupid was worth it.” He gave her a goofy grin.

   They went through the exercises and after half an hour Brady was still painfully dreadful at Italian. His accent was off; he didn’t know how to conjugate. Sophia was starting to wonder if he’d paid off the professor to pass Spanish their freshman year. Maybe he just copied off of her tests the entire time.

   “Let’s take a break,” Sophia suggested. “Just five minutes so everything can soak into your brain, okay?”

   Relief crossed Brady’s face and he stood up. “I’m going to get something from the vending machine. Do you want anything?”

   “I’m broke. But thank you,” Sophia watched him leave and sighed, looking at their worksheets. How was she supposed to get this beautiful idiot to understand Italian? The kids she tutored on the weekends were better than him.

   Her phone buzzed, a message from her best friend flashing across the screen.

   How is tutoring the hottie going? 😉

   Sophia’s face flushed and she was glad Brady had walked away. Her friends had been teasing her about her crush ever since Brady asked for help with Italian. They were all convinced Brady was just doing it to get closer to Sophia. She went to type a reply, but was stopped by a grape soda and bag of cracker jacks being placed in front of her.

   “I figured since I’m not paying you to tutor me, I could at least nourish you,” Brady explained, snapping the tab on his energy drink. He took a big gulp. “I remember you saying you like cracker jacks because of the prize inside, even if they’re just stupid stickers.”

   “I didn’t realize you paid that much attention to me,” Sophia said and the flush returned to her face. “Thank you. You didn’t have to get me anything.”

   Brady laughed. “It’s the least I can do. You’re being nice for putting up with me butchering this language.” He glanced down at his paper, his messy scrawl harsh next to Sophia’s neat corrections. “I’m terrible. This is hopeless.”

   “Well, why are you even learning it?” Sophia asked. “Give me an actual answer this time.”

   “I just wanted to learn it,” Brady shrugged.

   “You’ll have to tell me eventually,” Sophia rolled her eyes. “You didn’t just wake up one day and decide oh, I feel like learning Italian today.”

   “False. This is exactly what happened,” Brady said. “I woke up and decided that my soul yearned to learn this beautiful, extremely difficult language.”

   “No it didn’t. Your soul probably woke up and yearned for pizza, but that’s as Italian as your soul gets,” Sophia teased.

   Brady pouted. “Why are you suspicious of me wanting to learn this language, Soph?”

   “Because you’ve known me for three years, but this is the first time you have asked me to teach you any of the languages I know. You’re not even taking Italian,” Sophia said. “Why now?”

   Brady was silent for a moment. He looked down at his sheets, searching for the right words, then said, “Sono innamorato.” Which roughly translated to “I am in love.”

   “You? In love?” Sophia scoffed. “This coming from the boy who freshman year made a list of babes he wanted to conquer?” She rolled her eyes. “What makes this girl so special?”

   “Well, I’ve known her for a while,” Brady started, “and we were friends, but one day I was sitting with her and I don’t know, maybe it was her laugh, or the way the sun hit her hair, or—”

   “Your songwriter is showing and I’m about to vomit,” Sophia warned, though honestly it was more jealousy than anything else.

   Brady chuckled. “Sorry, sorry. I don’t actually know when I fell in love with her, Sophia, I just know one day I realized it and that I’ve been in love with her since I met her. So I decided to do something about it.”

   “Why the Italian learning sessions? Just ask the girl out,” Sophia teased.

   “I’m going to ask her out.” Brady said “But it wouldn’t mean anything in English. She speaks multiple languages and this one is the most important to her. You’re the only one I could think of to teach me. And I appreciate you doing it.”

   “So you’re using me to learn Italian so you can ask some girl out?” Sophia asked quietly, swallowing her growing sadness.

   “Si,” Brady said. “Like I said, I appreciate it.”

   Sophia gave Brady another worksheet to start on and watched him struggle through the simple exercises. She could take pity on him and just tell him how to ask a girl out in Italian. But what if she wasn’t his mystery girl? Then her time with Brady would be over and she would’ve singlehandedly helped her crush hook up with someone else. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be better to know now if Brady didn’t feel the same way? She could curl up on the couch with her dogs and cry into a tub of ice cream then move on.

   “Stop, I can’t watch you butcher this anymore,” Sophia sighed, taking the worksheet away. She flipped it over. “I’m going to tell you how to ask out this mystery girl.”

   Brady raised an eyebrow, but nodded. “Alright, lay it on me. How do I ask out my dream girl?”

   “Well, first I need to know what your date will be. It’s too generic if you just ask her on a date, it won’t show off your Italian,” Sophia explained.

   “I was going to ask her to get coffee,” Brady said “It sounds lame, but we’re both addicted to caffeine and it would get us off campus but we could still talk. I love talking with her. Her voice is beautiful. It—”

   “You’re entering songwriter mode again,” Sophia warned. She couldn’t help herself from wondering if maybe she was Brady’s girl. They’d both discussed their caffeine addictions multiple times and both agreed they were lying when they said they could quit at any time. “But I think that date sounds cute. You would ask her ti va di bere un café.” She wrote it down on the back of his worksheet.

   “Ti va di bere un café,” Brady repeated. His accent was rough but the words were audible enough.

   Sophia smiled proudly. “Perfect. You’re just one question away from your dream girl now.”

   Brady wrapped Sophia in a tight hug, kissing her cheek. “Thank you so much, Soph, you’re amazing. I’m going to invite you to our wedding.” He kissed her cheek again and glanced at his phone. “Oh shit, I think that’s her.” He looked over Sophia’s shoulder towards a pretty girl with long dark curls studying by the window.

   “Who?” Sophia went to look, but Brady grabbed her in a panic.

   “No! You can’t look! That’s obvious!” He hissed.

   Sophia shook her head. “Sorry. Sorry. Who’s over there?”

   “Catarina,” Brady said, taking the worksheet Sophia had scribbled the phrase onto.

   “Catarina who?” Sophia asked in confusion.

   “The exchange student from Italy. She came here last year. The one you’ve been teaching me Italian for!” Brady was practically vibrating.

   Sophia blinked in shock. So she wasn’t Brady’s dream girl. She’d been right when she told her friends he wasn’t interested in her as more than a friend. She’d known all along, yet her heart broke anyways. Her friends had given her hope and Brady had crushed it with a single name.

   “Well, go talk to her,” Sophia grumbled, starting to clean up their table.

   “I’m gonna mess it up. I need you,” Brady grabbed Sophia’s cellphone and put it in his pocket. “And I’m taking this hostage until you help me.” He dragged her away from the table and towards the window. He stopped and nodded towards a very pretty girl with long black hair and olive skin. “Okay, she’s right there. What do I say?”

   “Ciao is a good place to start,” Sophia rolled her eyes.

   “Then what?” Brady asked her.

   “Ti va di bere un café,” Sophia said. “I just taught you this. It’s on your worksheet!”

   “I have the memory of a goldfish,” Brady whined. He looked at the paper. “I don’t know how to say this. Come on.”

   Sophia didn’t even have a chance to protest before she was being dragged even closer to Catarina’s table. The other girl looked up and arched a perfect eyebrow at them.

   “Ciao,” Brady started, nervously running a hand through his hair. “Uh…” he stared at the pretty girl, nothing intelligent going on in his brain. “I forgot,” he whispered under his breath.

   Sophia closed her eyes and took a deep breath. This could not be happening. Her crush of three years was using her to ask out a different girl. All she wanted to do was go crawl into bed and cry her eyes out but no, she was going to be a good friend and stay here and help Brady.

   “Ti va…” she prodded Brady.

   He looked at her blankly.

   “Ti va di bere un café?” Sophia said in exasperation. “Ti va di bere un café?”

   “Si,” Catarina answered, her eyes lighting up excitedly.

   “That means ‘yes,’ right?” Brady hissed in Sophia’s ear.

   “Si, dumbass,” Sophia shook her head in disbelief.

   “Awesome. She said yes,” Brady looked like he was going to pass out. Catarina must be really important to him if he was this worked up. Where was the man-whore Sophia knew?

   Catarina stood up, placing a paper in Sophia’s hand. “Ecco il mio numero. Raggiungermi alle otto.” She winked at her and walked out.

   “What did she say?” Brady asked, watching her walk away. “I can’t believe I have a date with Catarina.”

   Sophia looked at the paper in her hand and couldn’t help but laugh. There was Catarina’s number scribbled in blue ink.

   “What’s so funny?” Brady asked. “What did she say?”

   “She gave me her number,” Sophia calmed down enough to say.

   Brady frowned in confusion. “Wait, shouldn’t she have given it to me? You Italians are strange. And she left before I could say when I’d pick her up.”

   This caused more laughter from Sophia. “Oh my God, Soph, what is so funny?” Brady asked.

   “Well, you see, Brady, I have a date with Catarina at eight,” Sophia said, putting Catarina’s number in her pocket. “Ciao.” She blew him a kiss and walked off, hoping to catch up with the exchange student and explain the misunderstanding, though she wouldn’t mind getting that coffee.

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