I should know better. I really should. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That’s what I tell myself, over and over, but somehow Mario seems too good and yet, maybe, just maybe, he’s true. I’m kinda due, you know, after all I’ve been through these months, the years, really, since I first ran away from home, so maybe my ship is coming in. I’m due. I am.
I still haven’t told Chantal I’ve been talking with him every day on the phone, and not sure when I will. I won’t keep it a secret from her if I decide to go to him, but for now I’m sure she’ll think it’s just one more sign I’m an idiot when it comes to these things. And until I decide, she doesn’t really need to know since it doesn’t affect anything else I’m doing.
Sure it’s a cliche, but Mario seems like a really good guy. He keeps his word and calls when he’s supposed to, and the phone actually rings when I get to it. He asks how I am, and it seems to matter to him. He tells me how his day is going and wants to know about mine. And he hasn’t pushed me to come see him, though I’m pretty sure he wants me to. In more ways than one, he makes Sid look like a jerk and without intending to he makes me wonder what I’ve been doing with him all these years.
Mario tells me he’s in some sort of an export business, but it’s not like Sid’s business and it seems to be totally legal and legit. It’s not all super hush-hush and I don’t get the feeling there are drugs or guns or shady characters involved. And Mario tells me it more than pays the bills, so that’s how he could afford to tip me a hundred euros for some nakee piano playing, and pay Chantal’s rates on top of it, and he didn’t mind giving me his number, besides, like he’d be afraid I’d actually call.
“Why do you like me, Mario? You do like me, don’t you?”
I finally get around to asking during one of our calls.
“Why do you ask me that, Rosie? Let me see. You seem like a very special girl, very sweet and smart, and you’re a sexy girl, besides. Is that not enough reason?”
“But there are lots of sweet and smart and sexy girls, Mario. They’re probably all over you. Why me?”
“Do you think so? Well, I’m flattered, even if it’s not true. Tell me, Rosie, why does someone prefer chocolate over vanilla, or pistachio more than amaretto? Why does someone pick a blue car, and someone else a red one? And call me nonsensical, but I have a – how do you say? – a weakness for American girls. How does one explain this? It isn’t enough that I like you? Enough that I ask you to come here to see me?”
“Okay, you got a point. I don’t know, Mario. I guess I’m just suspicious since I’ve been bullshat and fooled and lied to by so many people. And it’s a big decision for me. To come to you. You know about Sid now, and leaving him is big, too.”
We talked about Sid in one or two of our conversations. I don’t think it could be avoided, and besides, Mario needed to know all that about Sid and how he’s jealous and dangerous and whack-o and might cause trouble. But it didn’t seem to phase him. Not that he said he’d kick Sid’s ass or anything, like Chantal does, just how he wasn’t worried about Sid and what I do is my business, anyway.
My business. Heh. Now there’s an idea. I don’t think that’s how Sid sees it. Or anyone else in my life, beginning with my damn parents. Chantal sort of sees things that way, though she’s not above pressuring me, as subtle or not as it might be, to see things her way. So now Mario tells me what I do is my business. Don’t I just wish.
“Rosie, now it’s your turn. Tell me, do you like me? And what do you like, if you do?”
“I only met you that one time, Mario. You seemed like a nice guy. And I like talking with you on the phone. It’s gotten to be the high point of my day, to tell you the truth. But I hardly know you, even with all the time we’ve spent yakking. I think I like you. And – I’m going to embarrass the hell out of myself to say this – I think you’re sexy, too.”
“Oh, my. Sexy. You think so, Rosie? That I’m sexy?”
“Yeah. If I wasn’t standing out on the freaking sidewalk talking on this pay phone with everyone and their dog walking by I’d want to have sex with you. Right on the phone. Does that sound like I think you’re sexy? Or not?”
“Now you’re embarrassing me, my sweet Rosie. I’m much older than you, of course. That does not bother you?”
“Nah. I kinda like it. I don’t really know any guys my age any more, and older guys just seem to have it more together. I mean, tell me one guy my age who’d give me their phone number on a 100 euro note? They’d probably scribble it on the back of my hand with a felt-tip marker and tell me to call them some time when I feel like giving them a blow job.”
Mario laughs at my vague attempt at humor.
“You may be right about that, mia cara Rosie. I think the art of romance has been lost. Of course, I wouldn’t mind you calling when you are in the mood to give me a blow job.”
“You I wouldn’t mind blowing, Mario. And then you can take me for a delicious Italian dinner afterwards. Perhaps with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”
We both laugh at that.
And so it goes, day after day like clockwork, until it’s almost the end of my school term and it’s time for me to make a decision. The decision.
Mario senses it’s time, too, and he finally asks me, point blank, if I will come to be with him. Not just to visit, he makes clear, and which wouldn’t be much of a plan, after all, but to be with him. To stay with him. To live with him in his house. His big house by the lake. The lake with the swans and the lily pads in the coves and the villas by the water and the mountains looking down and the trees surrounding it that soon will change color and lose their leaves. The lake that will be enshrouded in mist when winter arrives, when ferries make their way with caution, when the snow comes and turns all the hills and the towns around the lake pure white, white as in a fantasy.
“We’ll have each other to keep us warm,” he says.
What girl can’t be wooed by that? Wouldn’t want all that? Dream of it, even? And put to her, no less, by a sweet man with a charming Italian accent who claims to like her just as she is?
For all I know, Mario could be a ruthless sex trafficker out to lure me into unspeakable slavery and defilement, but I don’t care. It all sounds too good to not take a chance on, so – you probably saw this coming, didn’t you? – I now have my plan. And it begins with an “M” and ends with an “O” and has “ARI” in between. And besides, I’m kidding about the sex trafficker part. I really don’t see it, not as I’ve come to know him. So forget that I even mentioned it. Really. Forget it.
“Do you mean it, Mario? Don’t say it if you don’t mean it. Please don’t. My poor little heart couldn’t take another lie.”
“Mia cara dolce Rosie, I swear it on my mother’s life. And if you know about Italian men and their mothers, you know then it’s true. Every word of it. Will you come be with me?”
“I’m not marrying you, Mario. You know that, right? I’m not ready for anything like that.”
“No, of course I know that. I’m not proposing marriage, just a happy life together. Why spoil it by getting married?”
I have to laugh at that. I couldn’t put it any better.
“Do you want to have babies, Mario? I dream of having little bunny babies that I can be mommy to. Not right away. But maybe some day. I’m a hopeless romantic, Mario. Inside this sexy, crazy girl’s body beats the heart of a romantic. You must know.”
“Yes, yes, of course. You can have your, our, bunny babies when you’re ready for that. But let’s not worry about tomorrow when we still have today to enjoy. Do you not agree, Rosie?”
I do agree, and I’ve made my decision. It’s a relief, actually. I’m done with, as the French say, being between two feet. I want to stand on both of them, and on Italian soil. It’s time to tell Chantal, without doubt the hardest part, time to buy my train ticket, to move on to whatever lies ahead. Oh, yeah, and to deal with Sid, too.
Through all this the texts have just kept right on coming. He must have callouses on his thumbs by now. I guess it’s time to give in, as much as I don’t feel like it. But I’m afraid what surprise he might try to pull if I don’t.
My first text back is meant to throw him off balance.
“What do you want, Sid? Would you please stop these incessant texts. Rosie.”
It’s not thirty seconds and the phone is ringing. Hell. Now he’s thrown me off balance. I decide I might as well answer or else I’ll get the hundred calls like I’ve gotten the hundred texts.
“Yeah. What do you want?”
“You know what I want, Rosie. I want you to come back. I told you I’m sorry for what I did.”
“Well, I’m afraid that’s not enough, Sid. You know as well as I do that nothing’s gonna change, and I’m past all that.”
“Past all what?”
“See what I mean? You don’t even get it.”
“You sound like a female.”
“Gee, what a surprise. Who do you think you’ve been fucking the past four years? A male with a cunt?”
“What? You know what I mean.”
“If I knew what you meant, Sid, I’d deserve a freaking medal just for that. Look, I think we need a break. I don’t know what will happen after it, but I know right now I’m not ready to come back to you. Okay?”
“Now you really do sound like a female. And no, it’s not okay. I don’t want any break. I want you to come back. Now.”
“Well, wanting don’t make it so. I think that’s probably something you would say. And why would you want me back if I don’t want to come back? Sounds needy to me.”
I’ve gotten pretty good at knowing Sid’s buttons, as he’s gotten to know mine, and I just pushed two of them. Seems I pushed them pretty well, too, judging by the silence on the line. It’s nearly half a minute before he figures what to say.
“I’m not needy, if that’s what you think. It may come as a surprise to you, but I actually care about you, you little shit.”
“Is that a term of endearment, Sid? If you cared about me, you wouldn’t have punched me in the face and broken my nose.”
“I was all fucked-up, Rosie. You know that. I didn’t even know what I was doing.”
“That’s supposed to make it all better? Sorry, Sid. That’s why I think we need a break. So you can look at yourself and maybe get your act together. If you were out of control that day, how many other days are you out of control? And that’s your big thing, isn’t it? Being in control?”
Ouch. More buttons. Big-time buttons. And more silence.
“You know if we take a break I’m not paying for your school any more. You know that, right?”
“I figured you wouldn’t. So I’m not shocked, if you thought I would be. Besides, I’ve learned a lot in school, for which I thank you. And it’s time I take a break from that, too, and maybe put some of what I learned to work.”
“How are you going to support yourself? Chantal is having you turn tricks now, isn’t she?”
“Again, Sid, none of your damned business. I can take care of myself quite well, thank you, and by now you should know what a survivor I am. Whether I turn tricks with Chantal’s customers or I open my legs for you, I’m still trading my body for goodies, either way. So to me it’s a wash. No harm, no foul. And I’m not saying I’m doing it, anyway, so don’t assume I am.”
“You don’t have to tell me. I know you are. But I don’t care about that. I told you you can fuck whoever you want.”
“I told you you can fuck whomever you want.”
“Whatever the fuck. Whomever. Listen, smart ass, I have to go out of town in a few days and I’d like to resolve this and have you go with me. You know you like those little trips.”
“Yeah, meet the natives and all that. They are a happy people. They sing, they dance, they shoot you in groddy strip bars. Hey, Sid, take one of your other girlfriends on this one, okay? I’ll take a rain check, if it’s the same to you.”
“This is getting old, Rosie. Are you coming back, or aren’t you? You don’t want me coming to take you back.”
“See, that’s exactly what I mean. There you go threatening me again. That’s how sorry you are.”
“I thought we had a deal. Didn’t we have a deal?”
“I thought we did, too. But it didn’t include socking me in the face and busting my nose for having my wallet lifted on the Metro. Guess I didn’t read the small print, but at the risk of sounding like a female again, I’m calling the deal off.”
“So what do you propose?”
“What do I propose? Are you even listening to me, Sid?”
“I’m listening. And to show you what a reasonable person I am, I’m willing to consider it. So what is it?”
“Okay. Let me spell it out so even you can understand. I want a break. I need some time to myself without you around, and I want you to take the time to figure out how to stop being a creep and abusing me, if that’s even possible, and then maybe after awhile if we’ve both figured those things out, we can talk again and see if we both want to get back together. Oh, and stop with the hundred texts, already. Okay? Sound reasonable?”
“They got you to call.”
“Fucking-A, Sid. Did you hear what I said?”
“I heard it. So how long will this ‘little break’ be?”
“I don’t know. I’m not putting a time on it. It might be a few months, it might be years. It might even be never.”
“Doesn’t sound like a little break to me.”
“Sid, if you don’t know by now, I don’t give a flying fuck what it sounds like to you. That’s what it sounds like to me, and you can take it or you can say good-bye. Your call.”
“So that’s it? Take it or leave it? After all we’ve been through, all I’ve done for you? Sounds ungrateful.”
“Yup. That’s it. And if you didn’t notice, I’ve done more than a few things for you, too. So, yeah, you did a lot for me, and I do appreciate it, Sid, but I think we’re even now.”
I can hardly believe I said that. But I did, and I’m not backing down from it. Screw that. Still more silence on the line.
“Okay. I’m thinking about it. But if I agree to this little break, I reserve the right to call you sometimes and we talk. Okay? That’s reasonable, isn’t it?”
“What is sometimes?”
“Sometimes. I don’t know. Every few weeks. Sometimes.”
“Not every hour? Not every day? And if I’m busy or don’t feel like talking right then I don’t answer, right?”
“Sure. But you call me back.”
I can’t believe we’re negotiating the terms of a time-out, Sid and me, but we are.
“Okay. Agreed. And no threats to anyone. Not Chantal, not my aunt, not my parents. No one. This is non-negotiable. Agreed?”
“I don’t like it, but all right. Agreed.”
I can tell Sid’s agreement is made grudgingly, at best. I need to hear something more convincing before there’s even a chance I believe he means it.
“Sid, do you remember the time right after we met when you made me sit in the back of your car?”
“I don’t know. I made you sit in the back of my car? Oh. You mean the time you showed up with your little friend and hadn’t asked me first. What was her name?”
“Never mind what her name is. The point is, this is your turn to sit in the back of the car. Can you handle it?”
“You know, you’re way out of line. You know that, right?”
“Well, sometimes you just have to get out of line. This is one of those times.”
“Janey. That was it. Janey. Whatever happened to her?”
“Yeah, Janey. Now do you agree to all this, Sid, or not?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“As long as you put it that way, not really. I’m not going to let you bully me this time. I’ve got to get some space or I’ll go mad. And you don’t want that, either, I’m sure.”
“You’re already nuts, but you know that.”
“Sid, do you agree to what we’ve discussed, or not? I need a clear answer from you.”
“I told you already, Rosie. I don’t like the terms, but I agree to them. Okay? Is that clear enough for you?”
“Okay, cool. I’m glad, if you’re serious. And I mean that last thing, Sid. If I even hear you’ve threatened or hurt anyone or harassed them, you’ll have more to worry about than whether we’ll ever get together again or not. I promise you that.”
“Oh, an uppity female, too.”
“Uppity? Sid, you ain’t seen uppity if you threaten or hurt or intimidate anyone I care about.”
“You haven’t seen uppity.”
“Fuck you, Sid. Make all the jokes you want. Like I said, that’s a non-negotiable.”
I can hardly believe it’s me saying these things. But I am. I’m feeling kinda proud of myself. Maybe it’s about time. Like Chantal says, the prisoner is taking the keys to free herself.
“Okay. I agreed, didn’t I? Just don’t fucking disappear on me, okay?”
“Okay. I won’t. One other thing, Sid. When can I get the rest of my stuff? I left some things in the apartment and I’d like to get them. When you’re not around.”
“I suppose I have the plague or something and you’re afraid to come near me. Okay, look, I’m leaving in three days on my trip. Come when I’m gone. You have the keys and I didn’t change the locks.”
“Thanks, Sid. I will. So have a good trip. And don’t get yourself killed. Gotta go now.”
“I will. And I won’t. Get myself killed. Okay. Ciao, Rosie.”
It’s not a way Sid usually talks, using foreign expressions like that, like ‘ciao,’ and it weirds me out and makes me wonder how he could know anything about me and Mario. He can’t. There’s no way. I’ve been too careful. I’m probably just being paranoid.
Crap. I’m not off the phone thirty seconds than it vibrates with another damned text.
“Enjoy your break. See you soon. Sid.”