I opened my mouth to say something, anything, but ... what exactly do you reply to such a statement? What do you answer when he says something like that? You’re the only one that can save me, he claimed. How wrong he is.
I can’t even save myself, how could I save him? I don’t even know what is it ... it’s so ridiculous, I feel so ashamed. Jake has done nothing but push and push, forcing my hand to breach through the layers of walls I put to guard my soul, he’s done nothing but keep on relentlessly trying to help me, yet I ... I’ve never even tried to know what he hides, what lurks behind that cocky attitude.
I’ve been so focused on my own issues, and then Ryan, and everything, that I neglected my own friend, and that has no excuse. Now he claims I’m the only one that can save him, but he doesn’t even realize he’s put his trust and faith into the wrong person. I’m no one’s savior, let alone my own, not at this stage, not in this period.
Inhaling deeply, I left his cheeks to grab his hands. Jake’s eyes were closed, as if he were eagerly waiting or praying. Hardly he would pray, so I’m guessing he was waiting for my response.
The thing is, though, there is no correct answer to this. For a man like him to drop to his knees and nearly beg for me to help him, it takes not only courage and real spine, but also a great dose of self knowledge.
I suppose I’m used to this ... tough and badass side of Jake Watson, that seeing him now so vulnerable before me left me speechless. I just ... I had no idea what to tell him. My heart sank for him, and I suppose I should get used to these ... feelings by now, but I’ll never be.
Matt once said my heart is surrounded by cobwebs that impede its functioning, Jake as well as Tess joke about it, telling me I have a cold stone heart, but the truth is, my silly heart’s only ever been used ever since I’ve met these people.
Let aside Tess because, well, I don’t think I even need to explain what she is to me, there are Ryan and Jake. I love them both. Just in different ways.
All my life, I’ve always kept people at distance, because I didn’t want to lose anybody else. After ... her. Even my parents, I was so cold with them, that even now I should slap myself for it. Sometimes I like to think it’s some sort of test: if they decide to stay, no matter how distant I am, then they really care, otherwise nothing.
But the truth is, I only want to save innocent hearts from undue harm. I faced the ugly truth with Matt, the way I hurt him, so I decided I’d do my best to learn from my mistakes ... then Ryan comes into the picture, and I go back to square one. And with Jake, well, I’ve started off the worst foot and I keep on taking the worst path.
The thing is, though, that in my own, weird, unfeeling, aloof way, I love them both, Ryan and Jake. Just in different ways.
I love Ryan more than I ever expected I would. I love him more than I could allow myself to. And it fucking scares me. It scares the living shit out of me, because I might lose him. And that tale about your heart growing stronger after every blow is nothing but, indeed, a fairy tale. Every time I care deeply, I lose, and I’m too damaged to face another blow of that sort.
I feel deep for both, though. The difference here lies in the meaning of the same words. I’m a translator, I know that a same sentence can have lots of different meanings, I know that there are unnumbered factors that influence communication, not just the language.
And that means I am able to make a difference between the kind of affection I feel for these two guys that have become, despite my oppositions, my bearing walls. I love both. But in a completely different way.
Let me explain, in Italian we have two different ways of voicing affection: we say ′ti amo’ to our partner, that person we wish to share our lives with, in the strictly romantic sense; then we say ‘ti voglio bene’, whose literal meaning is ‘I care about you’, but it goes way past that, and the proof is, that in English they’re merged into one simple phrase, ‘I love you’.
In English you’ll say I love you to your boyfriend, husband, life partner, linguistically in the same way as you’d say it to your parents, siblings, friends. In Italy we make a difference. It’s something that, as someone that works with words, has always stricken me, because there is no other language that makes such difference. Only Italian does.
I know I’ll sound biased, but it’s true. There is no language that makes such a clear difference between the two kinds of affection as much as Italian does, and I guess that’s why I’m more bound to see it better. Call it cultural background, but I can see a shade that my American friends couldn’t. And that is the one difference I make between these two guys that have come to mean so much for me.
Take it this way, there are two groups, one of ti amo, the other of ti voglio bene, Ryan is part of the first one, Jake is part of the other, or he should be. Because that’s where things get more complicated.
Tess is part of the second group. She’s my best friend, I love her – even though I never tell her – yet she’s not in the same group as Ryan. Jake, Jake should be in the second group with Tess. But he isn’t. Not quite. Because the kind of affection I feel for him, it just can’t be contained by that circle. And it scares me. Because, in my whole life, only one person has ever had the same importance to me.
Now, imagine these two groups as circles that entwine with each other only for a fine line. Ryan is securely tucked in that ti amo circle that means love in the romantic sense, Tess is securely tucked in that ti voglio bene circle that can have many levels, because you can say that to your best friend, but also to your pet, opposite to that first circle that has one level only, the sentimental one. Tess stands on the highest level of that second circle, useless to even mention it.
Then there’s that fine line, the one were the two circles entwine with each other. There. There is where Jake Watson stands when it comes to my heart. And it fucking scares me. Because it’s a kind of affection that has left me empty once already. Because the only other person that stood there was Matilde.
Because the kind of affection I felt for her went beyond every limit, and the sole thought that Jake could reach that same level scares the living daylights out of me. Because losing Matilde shattered me. I lost my soul. I can’t go back to that.
I love both guys but in different ways. I’m scared of my affection for both guys in different ways. I need them both in my life. And while I’ve never needed anyone as much as I need Jake, it’s also true that, losing Ryan would mean losing a big piece of my heart.
There is a scientific term for this. They call it philophobia. In simple words, it’s the fear of loving and being loved. It’s usually related to sentimental relationships, but in my case it expands to every bond. And it has difference consequences on different levels, which go from refusing to get a pooch because it will die before you and hurt you, to ... well, pushing away my boyfriend because it’s better to leave before being left.
My heart is more guarded than the freaking Pentagon, Tess says. I just protect the scraps that are left, I say. If you went through the same pain as I have, and I absolutely do not wish you to, never ever, you would understand what I mean.
They say we have soul mates, the legend of the red thread of fate says that there is a soul, hidden somewhere, destined to us, someone at the other end of the invisible red cord that the gods have tied around our little finger, and that is destined to be our life companion, no matter what. I believe it. Yes, I do.
But I also believe that that red cord doesn’t necessarily tie lovers. True love isn’t only romantic. There are different types of true love. And that red cord might tie together two little girls that were supposed to grow up together, to live their dreams together, in symbiosis ... hadn’t demons come to divide them.
My other end of the red string is far, far away from me, physically buried in a white coffin, beneath an elegant grave, spiritually in Heaven – if it does exist. That’s why my heart still bleeds. Because that red cord, being so far, is being pulled with such force, that it keeps squeezing the heart it is tied to, nearly crushing it. Every damn time.
I barely felt Jake gently stroking my hands that were in his, I was more focused on the strength I needed to repress tears for the umpteenth time, before he could see them again. I took a deep breath, eyes onto the floor, and gathered my strength. I suppose I’ll have to talk at some point, I must have been silent for more than ten minutes. “I ...” I what?
I’m sorry for being a cold bitch that’ll never be able to reciprocate your feelings? I’m sorry if you’ve decided I can save you, because, clearly, you’re wrong? I’m sorry for not loving you the way you’d want me to?
My heart was already aching. That’s what people will never understand. I can speak in the iciest way possible but have a turmoil inside at the same point. It just comes naturally when you bottle up every single emotion and let rationality win.
Jake cracked a sad, bittersweet smile. “I know.” He claimed.
Know what? He cannot know everything, damnit. He cannot just ... so easily read through me. How does he do that? And why the hell doesn’t he stop? But more importantly, why do I sometimes get this feeling of not wanting him to stop? Why do I get the feeling that he should know because he could understand?
On one hand, I’m sure that if he knew the whole story, he’d look at me differently, I’d instantly drop from the high pedestal of his esteem, but on the other hand, I think that ... if I told him, Jake could understand me.
I guess that’s what scares me the most. We’d get too close. And he’s already stuck in there, between those two circles, I don’t know how much deeper he could get without tripping into that red cord that still ties me to my far gone kindred spirit. I’m already to the point of no return, any step farther could only end in my complete destruction.
I swallowed once more, still staring at the floor, trying hard to force strength into me. I’ve always been able to stand cold against everything, against every single emotion, but, at this point, it’s like the very moment I come in contact with Jake, my defenses lower without my permission.
“Whether you like it or not, Silvia,” Jake claimed, his voice somewhat softer than usual, “I know you better than everyone else.” His jaw twitched, as if almost clenching, yet it didn’t. “Better than your own boyfriend, no doubt.”
I didn’t answer. My strengths were barely existent as it was. I felt like a defenseless little girl, while normally I’m made of steel, and I perfectly know that it was the whole situation, but at the same time, deep down, I heard that voice warning me, telling me it was Jake. Only Jake. He’s brought down, no, has punched his way through my walls, and that only resulted in me being defenseless in front of him, which means that he could be poison to my heart as much as I already was to his.
“So I know what you want to say.” He claimed. “Don’t bother.”
“You’re sorry. I know you are.” He half smiled, pain so evidently brimming in his voice, no matter how much he tried to control it. “But like I keep telling you, it’s not your fault.”
I’m here to fix you. He said a while ago. Now that I realize, those words sound so close to some others that were spoken years ago.
Whatever happens, no matter what, I’ll always be here for you, sis. She used to say. I love you. You’re my heart. Can I live without my heart? A quote from the movie Blow, she loved Johnny Depp. Ever since she saw that movie, she started telling me that every chance she got. She even painted the famous quote on my side of the wall in our room, behind my bed: May the wind always be at your back and the sun upon your face. And may the wings of destiny carry you aloft to dance with the stars.
The sole thought had me press my eyelids to repress tears. What is it these days? Why is it so much harder to live through this heart-shattering pain? Why do tears fall so easily? Why am I so weak?
Jake took another deep breath, squeezing my hand. “You can talk to me.” He claimed. “I keep telling you, you can talk to me, whatever it is.”
I closed my eyes, inhaling deeply. “Don’t do this.” I whispered, unable to retain myself. “Don’t ... don’t pity me. Don’t ...” I bit my lips to repress the sob.
“I’m not pitying you.” He responded, his voice calm. “I’m only trying to keep my promise.”
“I said I’d fix you. And I will. No matter what.”
I sighed, wanting to leave his hand, yet not quite able to. “Why? Why would you do that? It’s not your –”
“You know why.”
“Even so, I-”
He squeezed my hands, and brought them to his lips. I felt tingly when he kissed them. “There’s nothing you could say, that’ll make me run away.” Jake repeated my words with a small smile. “You think that wouldn’t count for you, too?”
I sighed, lowering my gaze. “How can you go from ... one edge to the other?”
He half chuckled, though kind of humorlessly. “Do you even need to ask?” He said. “You’re the air I breathe, baby. Your only presence does miracles for me.”
“Jake ...” I squirmed, not knowing how to react, but he simply chuckled.
“I know. I know you’re taken, I know you love your boyfriend, I know we’re only friends, and ... I know what I said time ago, but ... I still love you, Silvia. Let me be stupid for a moment, then we’ll move on.”
I inhaled deeply, closing my eyes not to meet his anymore, feeling ashamed. I flinched when I felt his hand grabbing mine, and I looked down to see he was entwining our fingers, tenderly, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. “It hurts like fucking hell. But it’s worth it.” Jake looked up, rubbing the back of my hand with his thumb, a small smile playing on his lips. “You are worth it.”
I blushed, lowering my glance, kind of writhing under his touch, but didn’t pull back. Instead I put every thought aside, and wrapped my arms around his shoulders, hugging him, not sure why. Jake hesitated for a moment, but in the end he snaked his arms around me as well, and pulled me into, so that while he wound up sitting on the floor, I wound up sitting on his lap, so that he could tighten our hug while I hid my face behind his neck. Last time we hugged like this, he was consoling me, now it was more of a way for me to apologize.
Jake breathed me in, one of his hands moving to be dipped into my hair, his face hidden behind my neck, mimicking my position. I felt weirdly soothed, despite everything. “You need to open up, Silvia. Talk. I’ll listen. Whatever it is.” He murmured in my ear, his voice as husky as ever yet deep.
I tightened my grip around him. “If I tell you, you’re gonna look at me differently.”
I managed to crack a tiny smile that barely quirked up my lips, and nuzzled his neck, breathing him in as my eyes watered already. This time I was almost willing to let the tears fall, to let Jake see me cry, while the others were against my will. I was almost willing to pour my heart out to him, to finally confess what’s been haunting me since ten long years.
He moved, so that his back would rest against the couch, and he rubbed my back. “Take your time. We have all the time in the world.”
I closed my eyes, letting myself go entirely to his embrace. His shoulders were cozy, oddly enough. His arms around me felt good, hell, they always feel so damn good. I’m starting to get used to these ... hugs. They make me feel somewhat better. He just ... holds me, Jake holds me, yet it’s as if he carried along the weight of all my burdens together with me.
They say a problem shared is a problem halved, but I’ve never believed it, yet right now ... right now my tongue craved to slip up and finally tell out loud the whole story. From the beginning.
“It’ll be miserable.” I mumbled. “And wretched. But also infuriating and-”
“It can be whatever the hell you prefer, I’m still not going.” Jake claimed, kissing my temple. “Once again, there’s nothing you could say, that’ll make me run away. I love you now, I’ll love you always.”
“Despite ...” I trailed off in a mere whisper.
Jake cracked a tiny, bittersweet smile as he kissed my temple once again, murmuring against my skin. “I love you now, I’ll love you always.” He repeated. “Even when you’re 40 and married and surrounded with Ryan’s children. Even when you’re 70 and your skin will be all crinkly. Even when you’ll carelessly drop a flower on my grave. Even when my body will have turned into ashes. I love you now, I’ll love you always, Silvia Banchi. No matter what.” Jake vowed. “So bring it on, baby. Say it all. I can bear it. I can bear tortures of Hell for you.”
Well, what do you say to that? More importantly, how do you stop your heart from fluttering after hearing such a passionate declaration?
The odd thing is, normally I would never believe such daring promises. I would scoff and snort, dismissing them as lies. Yet ... it felt so easy to believe Jake as he said those things.
I suppose that’s why I felt ... somewhat ... reassured. Knowing that, in the end, I will have someone beside me for the rest of my life. I suppose that’s why I found it so hard to give him up, even though I should.
I suppose that’s why, taking a deep breath, even though I knew it would indeed open the gates of Hell, I closed my eyes and ... began: “Her name was Matilde. She was 16 when she was abducted, and later on murdered. She was my sister. And losing her, I have lost the one light that guided my life. After I lost her, nothing but darkness followed. And I’m still here, wallowing in the dark, trying to find the road home, but I’m not even quite sure I do have a home.”
Jake squeezed me into him, murmuring softly: “You have it. In me. You’re my home, I can be yours.”
I smiled at the thought. “What will Elise say about that?”
“You make me feel home, Silvia. If I can even only recreate a faint version of that for you, I’ll have succeeded.”
“How can you always be so good with words?”
He half chuckled. “Practice, I guess.”
Right. Practice. Taking a deep breath, I nuzzled his shoulder. “Maybe I can’t love you like you’d want me to, Jake. But that doesn’t mean I don’t. It’s ... you’re right, we’re bound to each other, you and I. Just ...”
“Just not romantically. I know.” He nodded.
“Don’t be. Loving you gives my life a purpose. Something I haven’t had in quite a long time.” He kissed my temple. “We can still be friends anyways.”
“I guess so.”
Jake squeezed me in his arms, rubbing my back. “Now, if you’re willing, I’m ready to listen to a story.”
And I guess that, for the first time, I’m willing to tell it. I pressed myself against him, silently begging for him to hold me close, as I know I will need. “Just ... promise you won’t let go. Hold together these pieces, and maybe I’ll make it.”
Jake kissed my temple once more. “I’m here to fix you, remember?”
I actually smiled, oddly enough. That phrase sounds way more reassuring and soothing than he’ll ever imagine. Nuzzling his cheek, I entangled our fingers together. “Then I’m ready, fix me.”
END OF BOOK 1