Something I’ve realized about myself throughout this trip is I hate being photographed. It’s painful. Literally painful.
“Move your head this way, now slightly down, now into your neck, now lift your leg at a thirty-five degree angle just above your eye.”
Okay, I’m exaggerating. But it sucks. I was never meant to be behind the lens, that much is certain.
“Girl...these are amazing. You about to give Bella Hadid a run for her money.”
Adrien is watching from behind a computer monitor, inspecting the images as the photographer takes them, choosing which pictures best represent me.
Thank God I have him here. He’s so much more rehearsed in this aspect of my career. I don’t know the first thing about the marketing side of my business but he’s stepped up and taken over my brand image and turned it into who I truly am.
During the interviews he was standing off to the side, behind the woman, directly in my line of sight. If she wandered away from topics about the business or my work, he’d immediately raise his hand, silencing me before I said too much, pursing his lips and shaking his head.
When the topic of my love life came up, I couldn’t help but smile while telling her I couldn’t divulge in such personal matters. Adrien had a few words with her after the interview, waving his hand in front of her face, snapping off on her attempts to get around the story and into the drama that was my life.
I had to hand it to him. He was everything I needed as far as a partner throughout my branding. I made a mental note to give him a raise. As if I didn’t already pay him well beyond what he needed to support his Louboutin lifestyle. I never could’ve made it through this trip without him and Toren knew that.
That’s why, as badly as he wishes he was here, I understand why he wanted this for us. Adrien and I did need to repair our friendship. We needed that time to just be us again, time to heal, time to grow. Time to move on from the pain and confusion of the past.
It wasn’t easy by any means. My thoughts would often wander over to Ryder. I would replay events in my head between us, situations and moments we shared and look at them in a new light, seeing now what I couldn’t then. I looked at everything from a new lens, an understanding and empathetic one. Sometimes, it helped me to process, most of the time it just hurt worse.
But tonight was about moving forward together. Tonight we were preparing for a fancy dinner with our new acquaintances. After telling Adrien about our dinner plans, he went straight to work, picking out outfits for the evening.
As we got ready together, me in a form fitting, black, spaghetti-strapped dress, him in a gorgeous maroon dress with a modest thigh slit. We laughed, we danced, we drank wine and listened to the hits from the 2000's in our hotel room while applying makeup and curling hair. Nostalgic sleepover type fun with your friend. Nothing like it.
Taking a gondola to a restaurant is a first for me, but along the canal we went, until we got to the little door along the brick wall with a tiny wooden sign with the words Ristorante Da Ivo engraved into it. Adrien spots Sergio sitting with a group of fashionably dressed men in the corner of the quaint interior.
“Girl, this is the place George Clooney and Amal ate before their wedding! Oooh! You be George. I’m clearly Amal.” Adrien squeaks next to me, lifting his chin higher than necessary, walking forward.
“Why do I have to be George!?” I whine.
Adrien pauses, throwing his hair over his shoulder and cocks a brow. “Please, I reek humanitarian, high powered barrister, and fashion icon.”
“Fine...I’ll be George.”
The place smells fantastic, the scent of freshly made breads and tomato sauce fills my nose. It looks like a tiny mobster movie restaurant. There’s nothing big and flashy about the place itself. The dressed tables and the framed photos on the wall make it feel homey more than anything. The food here must be phenomenal.
Sergio stands upon seeing us enter and makes his way around the table to greet us. Kisses on both cheeks for Adrien, making him blush, and two kisses for me, one of them inching a little too close to the corner of my mouth for comfort. Sergio leans back and smiles his glorious smile at my semi confused face.
“You look sensational.” He oozes confidence as he talks.
My eyes darted to Adrien’s to see if he saw that, but this buffoon is on cloud nine, floating around in his dress.
We take our seats at the table, being introduced to Sergio’s friends, who by the way, all look to be dripping in money, accents rolling off their tongues in beautiful perfection.
“Ser, I never thought I’d see the day.” A handsome gentleman in a crisp suit comments, leaning back into his chair, looking at Adrien and I with a kind smile.
“Don’t mind him,” Sergio explains, “He’s a romantic. Wishful thinker.”
“Do you not do this often? Kindly show around visiting artists?” I question with a sly grin, opening the topic up for discussion.
I’ve had my curiosities since my one on one tour.
“He doesn’t often bring guests here." The gentleman, I now know to be Lorenzo, explains. “He wines and dines women all over, in true Sergio fashion, but here? No. This place is our little gem. Only special guests come here, so you must be someone remarkable.”
I smile, flattered by the man’s kindness, then take into question why we’re here. Why did Sergio invite me? What were his intentions? Maybe this man is having a case of Toren and falling for the one who pushes him away? Either way, it ain’t happening.
“Well it makes sense why we’re here then. We are two remarkably unique and rare souls.” Adrien adds, causing the men to smile appreciatively.
“Well, glad to have you.” Lorenzo says, then lifts his glass of wine for a toast.
The conversation flows wonderful as we bite into the amazing meal before us.
Adrien and another man are having a friendly debate over Italian fashion and I’m just enjoying the shit out of this wine. It’s amazing. Like meal replacement amazing.
“I’ll have the owner send some bottles home with you. It’s fantastic, is it not?” Sergio whispers into my ear, watching me finish the rest of my glass.
“It’s the most amazing wine.” I gush.
“I should hope so. It’s from my vineyard.” He grins, leaning back in his seat, a little closer to me than before.
“Really? I didn’t know you-” I begin, leaning back, keeping the distance that was once between us.
I can’t tell if he’s coming on to me or if this is just Sergio in all his charismatic glory.
“Tomorrow after the event, I can take you to my winery. Give you the tour, maybe we can have a private dinner after?” He rubs the side of my arm gently sending chills across my skin. A different kind of chill.
I cock my head, wearing a confused expression when I hear Adrien’s voice a little louder than before.
“Excuse me!? What’s wrong with the way I’m dressed?”
I turn to the other end of the table, eyeing the men, wondering who said what.
An older gentleman named Matteo speaks. “The point I’m trying to make is you just don’t see men of calibur flaunting their legs in dresses.”
Oh hell no. Not my friend.
Adrien opens his mouth to reply when I swiftly close it, leaning forward in my seat. My turn, boo.
“Excuse me, Matteeoohh, was it?” I mispronounced his name. “If you have a problem with high end fashion being worn by a man, I’m sorry for you. Because this man right here has more quality or calibur as you like to say, in his little finger than the bulk of your entire being.”
Matteo’s eyebrows shoot up.
“And I wouldn’t doubt he wears a blouse better than your damn mama.” I snap.
The men at the table are all silent as Adrien rolls his lips into his mouth to contain his smile. Sergio begins laughing. Then his laughter erupts into a full belly laugh as the rest of the men join in.
“A caval donato non si guarda in bocca.” Lorenzo comments, shaking his head at his friend, Matteo.
“Say what?” I snap, still heated up from the disrespectful comment to my bestie.
“It’s a saying. An old proverb.” Sergio begins, “It means don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
“He called him a horse!?”
Sergio chuckles, then gently touches my shoulder, “No, tesora, it just means you should be thankful for the gift before you, don’t try to find faults or complain about its value.”
“And you two are definitely a gift to be grateful for.” Lorenzo adds. He appears genuine in his explanation so I lay off the lazer eyes.
“You’re a firecracker, mia bella, and if you know anything about Italian men, we gravitate towards it. It’s in our blood.” Sergio winks.
I take a breath, cooling myself from almost snapping on Matteo, while Lorenzo asks Adrien a question about New York steering the conversation in an entirely new, and calm direction.
As we’re leaving, and saying goodbye to our new friends, sans Matteo, Sergio walks us back out to our boat, lingering as Adrien steps in before me.
“I was serious about tomorrow.” He begins, placing his hand at the base of my spine. “I would truly love more time with you, I’d love to get to know you better. I don’t meet many women like you, strong, intelligent, gorgeous, artistic...”
His eyes grow serious as he talks and I can sense what he’s doing. He leans in closer, wrapping his other arm around my back, encircling me in his arms.
I swallow, grabbing his hands from around my waist and gently holding them in front of me as I take a much needed breath.
“I thank you. Truly, I do. But I’m very much in love with another man, and feel it would be disrespectful to him if I joined you for a private tour and intimate dinner. I hope you can understand.”
He looks soberly at our hands for a moment then licks his lips and stares into my eyes. “You are one of a kind. And, he is a very lucky man. I hope he knows that.”
He smiles kindly, nodding as we say our goodbyes. I join Adrien in the boat while he waves like a prom queen in a car float parade at our departure.
He turns to be immediately after we’ve pulled away. “You are a grown ass woman.” He says, astonished while shaking his head at me proudly.
“Trying to be babe.” I smile, wrapping my arm around him.
“Also, thank you,” he adds with a little grin.
“Don’t thank me for anythi-.”
“No, quiet!” He shuts me up. “Thank you for always letting me be who I am, being proud to know me, and loving me without equivocation.”
He clenches his jaw, before looking out to the water to hold back his emotion. Adrien knows how much I love him. Even if I tease him, he always has my support. I’d never let some simple minded, ignorant individual ever tear him down before me. Adrien is who he is and I wouldn’t love him any other way. I’m sure some days, it isn’t easy being Adrien, the loud, charismatic, confident, diva he is. He wears his uniqueness proudly, regardless of who he’s around. No matter what happens, he can always guarantee my love for him runs deep.
“Equivocation, that’s a big word for you.” I comment, bringing it back to a light-hearted place.
“I don’t even know if I used it right. Popped up on my Word of the Day app.” he admits, chuckling while the tears drop.“I love you, with no equivocation.” I say proudly, wrapping my arms around his tiny frame.“Love you too, ho.”
We float back to our hotel in a new, beautiful light, the sunset seeping into the water at our backs. I’m growing and learning, and I’ve never felt more put together. The mistakes I’ve made in my past always felt out of my control, hell, sometimes they were. But how I reacted to them was all wrong.
I’m taking control of my life, one step at a time, and appreciating the people who helped get me here.
A weaker woman would’ve taken tonight’s situation and recklessly ran with it into the ground. A stronger woman would run reckless alongside the man who taught her how to fly.