It had been almost two weeks since I arrived in Siena, but I already felt like I’d lived in Italy forever. Nonna and I slipped into a simple routine of having our morning talks before I would go off to see Angelo and his siblings Nico and Flora, who all helped run their nonno’s olive oil business.
“Buongiorno, Sophia,” Nico called the moment I pulled up on my bike. “Flora is off in town, but she said to relay her hellos.” Nico took my bike from me as soon as I stepped off before parking it in the shade beside the farmhouse.
We walked inside, taking in the aromatic scent of their nonna’s spaghetti and meatballs. Angelo wasn’t kidding when he said she’d make a main course no matter the time of day.
“Buongiorno, Sophia,” their nonna called before setting a heaping dish of meatballs in front of my normal place setting.
I looked at Angelo, trying not to laugh, because she’d been cooking me dinner for breakfast for the past week. “Eat. Eat.” She knew very little English, but it came as no surprise that “eat” was the one word she had down.
Angelo looked over his cup of coffee with a smile as I took my seat and started cutting through his nonna’s fantastic meatballs.
“You know you don’t have to eat them every morning, yes?” he said, causing his nonna to turn around. She rattled something off in Italian, probably asking if I liked it, before starting on the dishes.
“No one ever was this kind to me back home, well, besides my roommate. So I get fat eating meatballs for breakfast. Who cares? At least I can say someone loves me enough to make me one of my favorite foods when I come over.”
Angelo shrugged before opening the paper and reading one of the articles in Italian, but I could tell that he was hiding a smile.
“Ah, there’s my favorite American,” Giacomo said as he walked into the room. “I see my bella has made more of her meatballs, yes? You like them?”
“They’re amazing. She could make a fortune selling them in my country. People can’t cook like this there,” I said, hoping he would translate that to her eventually. I never made meatballs myself, but I knew that everything was homemade, so it could take her hours to make my unusual breakfast each morning.
“We should get going, nonno. Lots to do today,” Angelo said before handing over his paper.
“No, no. Go have fun today. Take your tesora to Roma. Show her the sights,” he said with a wave. Angelo just shook his head.
“Not today, nonno. Sophia wanted to see how we make the oil.”
“You’ve not shown her?”
“She said she wanted you to be there,” he said with a shrug, but the way Giacomo's face lit up was absolutely worth the wait.
“Oh, we go now then. Come, come.” He got to his feet quickly, smiling and rushing to go tell his wife that we were going to see how the olive oil was made.
“Thank you for not saying anything about the tesora comment. It would break his heart,” Angelo whispered before signaling to Nico that we were leaving. It was strange seeing them stand side by side because the brothers were spitting images of each other except for their age, Nico being only eighteen and Angelo twenty-four.
“Just be careful,” I warned before his nonno was within earshot. “I don’t want to lie to him if he comes out and asks. I don’t know if I could do it.”
“He won’t,” Angelo said with a smile. “He’s afraid saying it out loud would be a bad omen.”
“Let’s keep him thinking that, shall we?” I joked as we all bid his nonna goodbye before walking down the foot worn path to the olive oil facility.
“The Gaspari family has been growing olives for generations, cultivating this land with the single purpose of making the best olives in Italy,” Giacomo said as he gestured to the olive grove.
“He thinks he’s a tour guide,” Angelo whispered, making me laugh.
“Back before the war, our crops went unattended, and without men to work the fields, we thought our business would be lost forever. But then came l’estate dei girasoli.”
“The what?” I asked, thinking I heard him wrong.
“The summer of the sunflowers. Many many years ago we learned from Firenze that planting sunflowers helps return nutrients to the soil, so when I was just a young boy, the hills you see here were covered with yellow flowers taller than two of you.”
“He exaggerates,” Angelo said before saying something in Italian.
“She believes me,” Giacomo said before gesturing toward me as I tried not to look guilty. “Those flowers. They saved us all.” He took a theatrical pause, causing the brothers to gripe about him over-telling the simple story. “But then the time came for the new olives to grow, and we spent many years pruning each and every tree until the olives were ready to be made into oil. From there, it is history.”
Signor Gaspari opened the doors to the factory, waiting for all of us to enter before beginning the official grand tour. We went through everything from how the olives were handpicked during the harvest instead of by machine to how they infused the final products with hints of other flavors to enhance its marketability.
“Internet’s over here,” Angelo said, catching my attention for a brief second and causing Signor Gaspari to go on a rant about the impracticality of the Internet.
“He thinks we’ve made the Internet up as an excuse to avoid him,” Angelo said before nodding toward the offices. “You mentioned wanting to email your friend. We have one computer here, but it works.”
“Oh that would be great,” I said, knowing that I probably had a million emails from Katie by now. “You sure you don’t mind?”
“Does it matter?” he asked with a smirk before motioning for me to sit in the office chair.
We were in a good place, Angelo and I. There was no awkward “hey, I know you like me” thing going on. We were just friends, but in the best sense of the word. I spent most of my days with him and his brother, learning about the culture and sharing my Spotify account. It was a strategically balanced system. Plus, he was helping me get the hang of a few more Italian words and phrases so I at least knew what people were saying before it could be translated.
Across from me, Angelo started going through some stacks of papers, logging the numbers into a book by hand before scribbling in some handwritten notes.
“You know, I could help you set up a database on your computer. That way, you can modernize the process and save time.”
Angelo looked up for a moment, thinking over my proposition before shaking his head.
“No, no, we’re on a tight budget right now. This works well enough.”
I just shrugged and logged into my email, not wanting to push the matter further. I typed in Katie’s last name only when I accidentally addend an “l” to her last name, an email popped up. One I did not expect.
Amanda.James@bane.come- Re: Assistant Event Planner Position
Monday, July 28 – 9:00 am
I’m writing on behalf of Bane Events and Planning. We have a recently vacated position within our company, and your previous employer, Marjorie Blake, reached out and expressed great interest in your being considered for the position.
As she said in our meeting, you are out of the country to handle a personal matter, but we ask that you confirm with us by August 12th or we will consider other applicants for the position.
Please email me any questions or concerns you may have.
Senior Hiring Managers, Bane Events and Planning
“Oh my god,” I said as I read over the email again and again. Bane wanted me.
“What?” Angelo asked, rolling his eyes. Apparently I say this phrase too much for his taste.
“I was just offered a job.”
“I thought you were here to get away from all that,” he said, frowning as he looked up from his books.
“Oh don’t act like you’d miss me that much.”
He shrugged, turning back to his work as I read over the email a third time.
“Did your friend email you?” Angelo asked, his tone suggesting he wanted me to change the topic.
I typed in Katie’s last name. I had four missed emails. Oh, she was probably so pissed.
Katie.Blane@tmail.com- Re: SAVE ME
Wednesday, July 22 – 10:45 pm
Yeah, I can say it too. So, Josh and I have been fighting. He’s been trying to keep tabs on where I am at all times, which is so unlike him. I mean maybe I’m just being a bit paranoid right now because we’re living together, but it just feels like he’s smothering me. I hate it. And it doesn’t help that I miss you.
Well, last night, I made pasta for twenty because I misjudged that one again. I may have grabbed the family sized box while I was dancing around. Who knows? Anyway, I’m pretending I’m in Italy with you while I eat four square meals of spaghetti until it’s all gone. Josh says he’s going gluten free, so I’m all on my own with this one.
Wait, did you say your family owns a winery? I’VE FOUND MY PEOPLE! So would it be cool if you all like adopted me or something? I could be a taste tester. Free of charge.
Oh yay, Josh is asking whom I’m emailing. Got to go.
Enjoy your amazing Italian summer while I die here all alone...again, burn this after reading. Premeditation is a bitch.
Katie (Aka the best friend you should have kidnapped and taken with you)
I read over the email again, unable to keep from smiling. Angelo looked up from his work, unable to focus. Guess I may have been laughing out loud again instead of keeping it to myself.
“Something funny?” I nodded and read it out loud to him, not asking if he wanted to hear what Katie had to say.
“And that’s your roommate?”
“And best friend,” I said as I went on to the next one.
Katie.Blane@tmail.com- Re: Katie, Party of One
Friday, July 25 – 11:00 am
Ciao Home Skillet! (Sorry, it sounded funnier in my head)
Well, Josh and I are on what he’s calling a break, but we both know what that means. He said he knows that I’m having an affair with my friend Reagan (who is gay and has a loving boyfriend BTW), and that I need to grovel for his forgiveness if I want him to take me back. News Flash, Asshole: Katie only gets on her knees for one man, and that’s so she can pray to God, which is all he can do at this point because I’m so DONE with him and his neediness.
Wow, sorry. I’m not used to venting via Internet. It’s weird. I sound like I might be crazy. I should go. I’ll probably write tomorrow. I figure you’ll be able to respond when you can, but I’ll keep you posted.
“Oh my god! She and Josh broke up!” I said as I pushed away from the computer for a second. This was mind blowing.
“Were they together long?” Angelo asked as he capped his pen.
“Years,” I said, blanking on the actual number. “I mean we thought he was going to propose any day now. Wow.” I was stunned. But I was more concerned with how she was handling it. It was already a week later, which meant that she was either doing ok, or in a dark place. Damn! I should have been there for her.
Katie.Blane@tmail.com- Re: UGH
Monday, July 28 – 6:00 am
I miss you. I literally hate myself right now. Josh told all our friends and family that I’m a lying cheating slut who couldn’t keep her legs closed. I can’t believe I thought I was going to marry him. I swear on our friendship I didn’t cheat. I may have wanted to with the way he was starting to treat me, but I would never. You know I would never. God, this is killing me. I can’t sleep, and all I do is eat, cry, and binge on Netflix till I pass out. Oh, and I ended the internship. The partners were pissing me off.
Please email me back soon. I just need to have some good news. No one wants to talk to me anymore and even Mom is siding with Josh. He’s such a fucking asshole!
She went on her rant for another few paragraphs, but I knew that it wasn’t getting much better for her, so I just moved on to the next one.
Katie.Blane@tmail.com- Re: Look Out Italy
Tuesday, July 29 – 2:00 am
Fuck it. I’m coming to Siena. I hate it here. My plane leaves LAX tomorrow at six. Tell your nonna her adopted American grandchild is coming to visit!
“Oh my god, Katie is coming!” I exclaimed, jumping from my seat. “Holy crap, this is the best news ever. Oh, you’re going to love her, Angelo. She’s just like me only louder.” I watched as Angelo faked a grimace before shaking his head and fighting back a smile. “NICO!”
The poor boy rushed toward us as if prepared to defend my honor.
“What’s wrong, Sophia?”
“My best friend is coming to visit!” I shouted, not sure why he made a face too.
“The loud one?”
“Yes, of course the loud one. You’ll have to meet her.”
Nico just smiled and blushed before slowly backing away. I must have scared him off with my excitement.
“Ok, so her flight left yesterday at 6, which means that she should be here...uh. When should she be here?” I asked Angelo, hoping he was better with numbers than me.
“Depends on the flight. If she had a layover, maybe soon. Check to see what flights left at the time,” he suggested before his nonno appeared in the doorway.
“What’s all the noise about?” he asked as he pulled up a chair to sit with us. I started searching yesterday’s flights as we spoke, but it was too difficult to multitask with all the excitement.
“My best friend is visiting. She could be here any second!” Giacomo's eyebrows shot up before he nudged his grandson.
“She wants you to meet her friends, Angelo. Good sign, that is.”
“Sure is, nonno,” he said, a light brush sweeping over his cheeks.
I always thought he was just sunburned, but now, maybe he's just been embarrassed the whole time. Some friend I've been.
“Ok, thankfully only three flights left LAX at exactly 6 that were headed toward Italy. She probably took the layover in Munich because that’s what I did, so her plane should be arriving around one this afternoon. Oh, I wish I could warn her about the busses,” I said as I quickly typed an email telling her where to go when she got to the airport. The problem was, her phone wouldn’t be working internationally, so she wouldn’t see it in time.
“I’ll go,” Giacomo said with a quick nod. “You said one, yes? Show me her picture, and I’ll wait.”
“Oh no, that’s not necessary. If anything, I should go. She’s my friend,” I said, smiling over toward him.
“Nonsenso! I have a pass,” he said, digging into his pocket to prove it. “Please, Sophia. Let me help. It’s rare I’m of any use these day.”
Angelo said something in Italian before hugging his nonno and standing to leave.
“We should be leaving soon, then. It takes an hour for him to get to the airport, and her flight may come early.”
“Well here, take this,” I said after digging through my purse. It was a keychain we had made from some campus fair with our pictures on it. It was kitschy and a terrible picture of us both, but there’s no way Signor Gaspari could miss her copper-colored hair when she walked through the gate.
“Is she Italian?” he asked, looking from the photo to Angelo.
“Her grandmother’s Italian,” I said trying not to smile as he rushed Angelo to the car.
“You know he still has no idea Angelo isn’t seeing you,” Nico said as he leaned on the office doorframe.
“Do you want to be the one to tell him?” I asked, but he just put his hands up in surrender before walking me back to the farmhouse.
“Nonna! I have the best news,” I said as I burst into the villa. It was almost one, so it was surprising to see that she wasn’t taking her usual siesta, but I was too excited to ask.
“Tell me, piccola! Are you and Angelo together now?” she asked as she smiled knowingly over at me. Typical. I swear all the old people get together here and plot marriages.
“Wait, what? No. My best friend is visiting. She emailed me a few days ago with the news, but I got it today. Could she stay here? I know it’s a lot to ask, but her boyfriend just broke up with her, and she could use a little Italy.”
“Che bello! Of course she can stay. I’ll be her Italian nonna.”
“This is the best day ever. Angelo and his grandfather are driving to the bus station and then Signor Gaspari is meeting Katie at the airport, so she’ll get here before dinner for sure.”
“She comes today? All you Americans and your spontaneity.” She fluttered her hand over her chest like she wasn't secretly excited for another mouth to feed.
“Yes, I know. It’s really last minute, but I told her all about my Nonna’s amazing home and all the food, and she hopped right on a plane to come see us. She’ll love it here.”
“Oh, there’s so much to prepare. She likes lasagna, yes?” She continued her thought in Italian as she bustled about the kitchen, pulling out flour, spices, and random ingredients that made very little sense to me.
“Go on and ready her room,” she said as she shooed me from the kitchen. “There are linens near the bathroom and fluff the pillows.”
Nonna was clearly excited to have another guest so she quickly went from English to Italian, rattling off what she wanted to get done.
A knock echoed across the villa, making my heart jump. Another knock sounded before I was able to pull open the door, revealing a very grumpy looking Katie accompanied by an equally grumpy Angelo and smiling Giacomo.
“Look who we found getting off the bus!” Signor Gaspari said, motioning to Katie with his hand. “Lucky, yes?”
“When you said Italians were friendly, I didn’t know you meant this friendly,” Katie whispered before pulling me into a tight hug. “But I like it.”
“Buonasera Katie,” Nonna exclaimed, walking over to greet Katie with a big hug and kiss on the cheek as if she were really family. “Have Angelo bring your things in, and I’ll make something to eat.”
I half expected Angelo to grunt and say something rude, but he nodded respectfully to Nonna before returning to the Fiat.
“You have a beautiful home, Signora Martinelli,” Katie said, completely taking me off guard. She actually sounded civilized. Weird.
“Call me Nonna,” she said before ushering us all into the kitchen. As if expecting company, plates of antipasto were brought out along with the makings for sandwiches and a few glasses for wine.
“Wait, can I really call her that?” Katie asked as we walked out the plates. “Oh my lord, this place is gorgeous! Do you see that? She has a vineyard as a backyard. How cool is that?”
“Everyone calls her Nonna, and yeah, can you believe it?”
“No kidding. This is like a whole other world. Can we just live here forever? I’ll totally be your lesbian lover if it means we get to stay. And then I can be the wine tester. I’m telling you. The power of positive thinking,” she said, tapping her temple with her finger.
“I told you. I’m not looking for a relationship,” I said with a wink as Angelo walked out, wine bottles in hand.
“Don’t feel bad, cara, she said the same to me,” he said in a completely un-Angelo way that had me nearly dropping the plate of antipasto. Katie pretended to fan herself from the heat, but it was our girl signal that we were in the presence of hotness.
“Oh, you are not crushing on my Italian BFF,” I said as soon as he left the room. She just gave me a wicked smile as we set the table. “I mean you just got out of a relationship.”
“A girl can look, can’t she? I mean, yeah, I’m not actually looking for anything, but damn, I knew I should have studied abroad.”
I laughed and pulled her into a side hug before Nonna walked outside in her bright blue sundress, motioning for Katie to sit to the left of her and I to the right.
“So how were your travels? Good?” Nonna asked, trying to make Katie feel welcome.
“Better now that I’ve made it here. Let’s just say I never want to fly again. Someone brought a baby. Like a crying, whining...” I made a face, trying to remind her that babies here were treasured. “Adorable baby. Sorry, I didn’t get much sleep.”
“So what did you do in L.A.?” Angelo asked as he gave her a comforting smile from beside me. Ugh, who was this Angelo and what did he do with my grumpy friend?
“I worked as an intern at a law firm for a while, but it wasn’t going anywhere. It was just paperwork mostly.”
Angelo gave a polite smile, but his nonno was enraptured. Traitors.
“She was up for Intern of the Year. Can you believe it?” I said, sending us both into a fit of giggles.
“What I can't believe is you actually live here,” Katie said as she looked around. “I mean, this is some straight postcard...er...stuff.”
It was going to take some work getting her to watch her language around Nonna, but I had faith.
After lunch was served and Katie talked about herself, Angelo and his nonno excused themselves from the table, claiming that they had some work at the office. I suspected they were off changing Angelo’s marriage game plan.
Once they left, Nonna excused herself for a late siesta, reminding us that all the excitement wore her out, which meant that Katie and I could finally talk about what really happened back in L.A..
“Ok, so before I start, I just want to say I love you and that I was serious about your family adopting me,” Katie said as she refilled our wine glasses. “This place is so beyond what we had in the states. I mean, come on. Your backyard has rolling freaking hills.”
“I know I know, but it wasn’t the same without you here. I mean, normally Angelo isn’t all smiles and sweetness. He’s a real grump,” I said as we walked over to the more comfortable lounge furniture in the shade.
“Really? Huh,” she said, not giving anything away with her reaction. “Well, I guess I should just come out and say what happened because, hello, traveling halfway around the world to visit isn’t really normal.”
I nodded, but shrugged. She would never hear me say I wasn’t happy to see her.
“So, I told you the basics about Josh, but it was so much more than that. He’d have his friends call and leave me messages after I blocked his number, and they were just so unbelievably rude. Like, one person had the nerve to say I gave Josh an STD. Uh, newsflash, if he has one, it’s not from me.”
“Wait, what if Josh was the cheater and needed someone to blame to save face?”
Katie just took a long swig of wine.
“Oh honey, I figured that out on Day 2, but I was trying to take the high road. I mean, I spent almost four years with him, but these past few months...he’s been acting so weird, and we both knew his parents wanted him to marry one of those ultra-rich bitches from his daddy’s yacht club anyway. I mean who needs a fucking yacht in Washington? Just saying.”
“So wait, you said ‘trying’ as in something happened.”
“Believe me, something happened all right. I called his office, letting them know where he could find his stuff if he ever went looking for it. Turns out, it was his personal assistant. I know. The irony of our situations has not escaped me. Anyway, she started bitching me out over the phone, saying that she couldn’t believe he ever loved me and that I was a whore for trying to steal her boyfriend.”
“Her boyfriend. So I caught the cheater red handed and forwarded that little tidbit on to mommy and daddy. They weren’t too pleased that he was sidling up to a ‘nobody’—their words not mine—buried in student debt and traffic violations. Katie: 1 Josh: 0.” She paused, smiling as she poured more wine. “Oh, and I told them Josh got her pregnant and that they were having a secret shotgun wedding so he could do the right thing.’”
“Why do I get the feeling you’ve had that one planned for a while?” I asked as we clinked glasses and smiled.
“Because sometimes, when you’re sitting upstairs in a mansion while your boyfriend says ‘it’s better if you just stay here while I go entertain some family friends,’ you start to get creative in your plot to overthrow the wicked.”
“Oh my god, I love you,” I said, offering her a well-deserved high five.
“So if I want to look at hot Italian men and appreciate the goodness of God in the form of tanned abs and hard-earned muscles, damn right I’ll do it. But, I do have a question for you. Have you thought of Ari at all? I mean, there’s a good chance Josh is going to tell him where you are now that the bribe system is off the table.”
“Honestly, I think about him sometimes, but you have to remember, I don’t really know him. The whole point of being here is taking a break from my old life so I can start fresh, and I’ve only been here for a short while. I’m not ready to worry if he’ll still be in my life when I go back. And now that you’re here too, I don’t want to worry about him. He’s got a business to run and things to do. He may not even like me anymore.”
“True that, plus I hear the merger isn’t going as smoothly as they’d hoped. He’s looking for a new event planner. Please ask me how I know this.” Katie smiled over at me, and I tried not to laugh. “Seriously, I’ve been dying to tell you.”
“What do you know, oh wise and beautiful one?”
“Marjorie got canned the second Prince Charming took office. I told you! Karma’s a fickle mistress.”
“And how do you know this?”
“Your Uncle Oscar has all the best gossip.”
“Don’t tell me you stole my uncle too?” I joked, thoroughly enjoying the fact that the she-devil got what was coming to her. Although that didn’t explain the email from Blane, which I was itching to tell Katie about the second I could segue.
“He kept calling to make sure everything was ok in Italy. He said he and his lady friend were going to be in Rome August 5th, so if we wanted to meet up and surprise him, we could.”
“Rome? Is that even close? I feel stupid asking, but I haven’t left Siena.”
“Honestly, I don’t know. At the time he told me, he wasn’t sure you’d be willing to visit because of this whole self-cleanse thing you have going on, but if you’re up for it, I am. You know, we could even go backpacking or something. See the sights. I hear Roman men are a dream.”
“You watched Gladiator on the way here, didn’t you?”
“And 300. Mmmm those may be painted abs, but they were glorious.”
“You know the Spartans were Greek, right?”
“Yeah yeah, to-mae-toes to-mah-toes. They were all sexy. And that’s what matters,” Katie said with a flick of her wrist. “But seriously, can we go? Uncle Oscar mentioned taking us to Prada and the poor, dormant fashionista in me died a little.”
“We should talk to Angelo then. Maybe he can drive us,” I said, giving me time to actually think through a plausible plan for when he undoubtedly said no.
“I still think backpacking could be awesome. Like I don’t have any gear or skills, but we could totally do it. I mean finals week junior year we practically lived out of our backpacks anyway. Same thing, right?”
I just shrugged, trying to imagine us actually sleeping in hostels and exploring the streets of Rome. I had a feeling she was going to be disappointed when she doesn’t get swept off her feet and into the arms of some filthy rich guy who offers to show her the sights and throws in a shotgun wedding, but hey, who was I to go around bursting bubbles?
“Maybe we could even convince Angelo to go so we wouldn’t, oh I don’t know, accidentally walk into gang territory or anything,” Katie said with a shrug.
“Wait, are there gangs here?”
“See, that’s why we need Angelo. Now, come on. Let’s go plan out our course of attack. I have maps!”