“You want me to take you where?” Angelo said as his nonna set two plates of spaghetti out this morning.
“Rome,” Katie said, her mouth already full of pasta.
Angelo just gave her a smile before turning his grumpiness back on for me. “You know I can’t leave nonno here on his own. He needs me.”
“Food, good, yes?” His nonna asked as she looked to Katie and then to me. “Eat. Eat. I make more.”
I looked to Katie with wide eyes knowing I couldn’t finish my plate as it was, but she was lost in food bliss, so she was of no help.
“Angelo, stop her,” I whispered as I kicked him under the chair. “This is serious. I might die if I eat any more. My nonna made four different cookies for Katie to try. Four. Do you know what that does to a girl?”
Angelo gave me a look that said “good things” before rattling off something in Italian. Even with his Italian lessons, the best I could do was recognize the words “food” and “cooking,” but I considered it a small victory.
“She wants to make your friend her special lampredotto for dinner." He leaned in, looking over his shoulder to be sure his grandparents were out of earshot. “You’re gonna want to skip that one.”
"Why's that?" My eyes narrowed.
"Or should we say, what's that?" Katie finished, frowning down at here empty plate. "I haven't met an Italian dish I didn't like."
"It's cows stomach."
"You know, on second thought, we leave tonight. Can't make dinner," Katie said, pushing away from the table.
“WHY IS IT SO COLD?” Katie squealed as we hopped into the grape smasher. “Lucca, something is wrong with your grapes. I’m getting frostbite over here.”
My cousin shook his head as he watched us climb into the grape-squashing pool. I honestly couldn’t remember the word for it, but the moment I told Katie that I’d been there, she had us scheduled to go too. Poor Lucca seemed to almost expect this and offered to show her around the vineyard when he finished up his calls for the morning.
“Oh, quit complaining,” I said as I started stomping like crazy, coaxing her to stop whining and have some fun.
“She’s a maniac, maniac on the floor,” Katie squealed as she joined me.
“And she’s dancing like she never danced before...”
We went through the opening dance sequence of Flashdance, stomping the grapes and twirling around like dorks.
“Be careful,” Lucca said as he walked by, a clipboard in hand. “I promised Nonna you both wouldn’t get hurt.”
“Come join us, Lucca. You’ve seen Flashdance, right?”
“No, but I can only imagine,” he said, gesturing toward our general direction.
“So how long until it’s finished?” Katie asked a few minutes later, out of breath. “Meatballs and high knees. Really bad idea.”
She held onto the edge of the tank, looking a little pale.
“Ok, bad idea. Let’s get out before you hurl all over the future wine we’ll be drinking.”
“Good point. So who do I need to contact about the taste testing job?" She looked wistfully off toward Lucca, who was speaking in rapid Italian to one of his workers before heading back toward the office.
“You know they’ll give you free wine if you ask,” I said as we dried off and pulled our shoes back on. “You’re basically family.”
“Done. Also would he hate me if I checked my email? I really need to tell my mom I’m alive or she’ll think Taken happened for real this time. You know how she gets.”
“What? Your mom? No.” I laughed. “Remember that one time you drunk called her from the bar thinking she was a taxi.”
“And the poor woman drove two hours to pick me up.” Katie deadpanned. “Yeah, don’t remind me. I was in so my shit for that. She made me swear off drinking for a month. You remember that stupid teatox subscription she got me for Christmas that was supposed to help me get me addiction under control."
“It’s not like you hated it,” I said, giving her a look as we walked upstairs.
“That’s beside the point. That tea was delicious, but you know she’s probably called someone by now to see if they can make sure I haven’t been abducted.”
I nodded, knowing Mrs. Blane was probably having a panic attack waiting by her phone and checking all her emails, so we set off toward Angelo’s office. He waved us in as he talked candidly on the phone, holding out his laptop as if already knowing why we were there. Katie blew him a kiss before rushing away toward the patio.
“You know Europeans don’t blow kisses in place of air kisses, right?” I asked as we found a place to sit outside, thankfully in the shade because it was unbelievably hot out.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s a thing I’m starting. Just go with it.”
“They already think we do weird things.”
“And I’m not convinced that kissing everyone’s cheek is sanitary, but they do that here. Who are they to judge?”
“True,” I said, leaning back on the bench while she spent the next twenty minutes typing something rapidly. Deleting. Then retyping.
“Sounds like an intense email to your mother you have going there,” I said, trying to sneak a peak.
I paused, watching her frown and then click send.
“Josh?” I asked, as she handed off the laptop.
“He gave Ari our emails and said where we were. Looks like Prince Charming could be on his way,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m so sorry, Soph. He turned into such a...I’m sorry. I need a second.”
Katie stood, walking into the vineyard with determined steps. I wanted to follow her, really I did, but all I could think about was what if he came? What if tomorrow he showed up at my doorstep?
Or the next day.
Did I even want to see him?
I sat there, watching Katie walk further and further away until I was on my own, logging into my email to see if he’d written. It didn’t occur to me that he would have before, but maybe I was ready to see.
If he could show up at any minute, I should at least see if what he had to say was important, right?
Sure enough, there was an email from this morning, and I hesitated for a second before closing the laptop and forcing myself to take a deep breath. This wasn't a big deal. It was just an email. It couldn't hurt me.
“Is everything ok?” Lucca asked, stepping outside. “You look upset.”
“Things aren’t going as planned,” I said, looking down at the laptop before reopening the front. “Can I keep this for one more second? I have one last email to read.”
“Of course, of course,” Lucca said, waving his hand as he took the seat beside me. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
“A little hot for my taste.”
“Yes, but on the days without sun we miss the sun, do we not? I prefer to appreciate it now and not later.”
I looked at him, watching as he rolled up his shirtsleeves. Lucca always seemed calm to me, and I wondered if I had just missed out on the good Martinelli genes. Calm wasn’t on the short list when I thought of how I’d describe myself, but he did make a good point.
“Why is it we always want what we can’t have?"
"Sometimes that’s how things have to be. We need to appreciate the things we have when we have them.” Lucca said, nudging my shoulder. "And not after."
A.Bellisario@ark.com - Re: Hope this finds you well
Thursday, July 31 – 7:34 am
I hope all is well in Italy. I sent word to my mother that you may be stopping to see her, and she reassured me both you and any of your family would be more than welcome.
He also included her address in Fiesole. I quickly typed it into Google Maps and it's basically Florence, which was technically close enough for a day trip. A non-creepy, we-were-just-in-the-neighborhood, do-you-have-baby-pictures, day trip.
“Hey, sorry,” Katie said, sounding winded as she motioned for Lucca to move aside. “I just needed to go scream.”
“Did you scare off my workers?” Lucca asked, his eyebrows nearly touching his hairline.
“They joined me. Said the wine-lord overseer was being too hard on them.”
“The what?” Thankfully, he laughed.
“That’s your new business title,” Katie said, turning the laptop toward her. “Well, that was fast.”
“Yeah, but he sounds like he’s ok. Like he wasn’t begging me to come back.”
My voice cracked on the last part, and Katie sighed.
“Why would he?" Realizing that didn't quite hit the mark, she rolled her eyes and pulled the laptop out of my hands and into Lucca's. "Babe, you told him you needed space. He's obviously respecting that.”
"Do you?" Even Lucca looked like he didn't believe my bravado. I barely believed it. I was hoping he'd give me a reason to be mad. It was stupid but I wanted to have a reason to prove to myself that he wasn't perfect. And he wasn't. I knew logically he wasn't. But I wanted him to have some obvious character flaw and the only one I could drum up in my sun-flushed state was that he fell for me. I was a mess.
“So when are we going?”
“To the Bellisario’s gorgeous Italian villa. I mean I’m down if you are, and we can look for embarrassing high school photos. I mean, come on. He had to have an awkward phase at some point, right? That kind of anti-puberty magic only happens in the movies, and it will definitely level the playing field.”
“We can’t just show up at someone’s house unannounced,” I said before they both gave me a look that said that’s exactly what I did to Nonna. “Ok, fine, but I’m not just showing up to a stranger’s house. We aren’t even family.”
“You still haven’t learned anything, have you?” Lucca said, shaking his head. “We’re all family.”
“Signora Gaspari, guess what we did today?” Katie asked Angelo’s grandmother as soon as we checked in on my nonna and told her of our plans. She said she was going to meet with Massimo’s family anyway, so it was no problem at all.
“Katie, she doesn’t know a lot of English,” I whispered as Nico and Giacomo joined us at the table.
“It’s ok. I’ll translate,” Angelo said before turning to his nonna and repeating Katie’s sentiment.
“We went grape smashing!”
Anglo dutifully relayed this to the petite woman at the head of the table who, upon hearing the news, started laughing and clapping in the most adorable way. Even Angelo couldn’t keep from smiling as she reached for Katie’s hand and squeezed.
“Is that good?” Katie asked after handing me the serving spoon.
“It means ‘how lovely.’”
“I like it,” she said before digging in. “Oh, yum. You were so right. The food here is amazing. Even if it is cow stomach.”
I still wasn't sure I wanted to eat this, but I didn't want to be rude.
“So did you hear? Angelo is taking us to Rome,” I said to Giacomo, hoping Angelo hadn’t suddenly changed his mind.
“It will be fun for you, yes? Lots of history.”
“We’ve never been before, so we were also hoping Angelo would come with us,” Katie said sweetly, following the plan.
“Yes! That is a great idea,” Giacomo chimed in before nudging his nipote.
“And then we are going to do a little traveling on our own for a while,” I supplied, trying not to startle anyone with the news. The room went quiet for a moment before Signora Gaspari nudged her husband for a translation.
“No!” Angelo’s nonna exclaimed, setting down her fork. She turned to us and then to Angelo, rapidly conversing about something my meager Italian couldn’t pick up on.
“She’s upset you’re leaving so soon,” Angelo supplied when the rant was over. His grandmother stood abruptly, excusing herself from the table, her husband not far behind. “She wanted us to have more time together.”
The blush burned into his cheeks, but I could see Angelo fighting for composure. He was embarrassed. Because of me. I did this.
“I’m sorry. I didn't mean to upset them."
Angelo nodded but said nothing.
“But you can come with us,” Katie said, reaching for his hand. “Seriously, we want you to. Sophie doesn’t think you will, but you should. It will be fun."
“My place is here in Siena.”
"Are you sure? It would only be a few days." I don't know why but my heart felt like it was beating slower. I shouldn't care if he came with us, but I did. I cared a lot.
“We should get going. I don’t want to upset your nonna any further." Katie and I stood, gathering our plates. Angelo waved us away, saying he would get them.
“She’ll be ok,” Nico said gesturing toward his grandparents who were standing outside, their hands moving quickly as they spoke. “Really, she will. They were like this too when Helena died, but they will...”
“Zitto, Nico!” Angelo shouted, his chair scratching against the kitchen tile.
Nico paled as his older brother slammed his fist into the table before spewing a stream of angry Italian in his direction. After Angelo was finished, he looked at me and then to Katie, his gray eyes betraying whatever it was he kept buried. It was obvious that whoever Helena was, she meant a lot to all of them.
“I’m so sorry, Nico,” I said, reaching out to touch his arm.
“You look like her, you know?” Nico said, pausing as he cleared the table. “She had green eyes, not brown, but you could have been her sister. You should probably just take the bus to Rome. It would be easier on everyone if you did.”
I knew he didn't mean it in a bad way. He was just looking out for his family.
“I think you’re right,” I said, following Katie out the front door. “Buona sera.”
We walked back to the villa in silence, neither of us wanting to admit how awful what just happened was. When we got back, Nonna was still out, so we went to my room, watching as the sun began to dip below the Tuscan horizon as we curled up on the bed, our bodies lethargic and unresponsive.
“I had no idea,” I finally admitted, feeling like the lowest from of crap. How could I not know that he lost someone he loved? It seemed so obvious now. Here I was wallowing over a guy I barely knew and Angelo was grieving something so much more heartbreaking. Maybe they were dating. Maybe they were married. Whoever she was, he was going to have this feeling the rest of his life and maybe it was selfish, but it brought a strange sense of clarity. One I had not been expecting.
Katie hugged a pillow and looked over at me, her bright hazel eyes betraying her own demons.
“Why can’t life be easier? Why is there death and heartbreak and sadness in the world? Why couldn’t God just make us perpetually happy?” Katie asked as a few rare tears dripped down her cheeks. “I don’t understand what we do to deserve it. We're not bad people.”
“I don’t know,” I said as she dropped her forehead to my shoulder. I didn't know if these tears were for Josh or for herself. It didn't matter. I was here to help her through whatever she needed me to because she was my family. And family takes care of each other no matter what.
“I can’t believe Josh did this to me. I just...” The tears took the words from her lips she sobbed in my shoulder. She took a few calming breaths before steadying herself enough to say what I knew she needed to. “He...he was my rock. He was my freaking everything, and now, I have no one. I spent four years thinking he was my forever, and he two-timed me with someone he just met. I mean, did he even mean it when he said he loved me? How could he have meant it? It all feels like this big, crappy lie and I almost married him. I almost lived the rest of my life with that freaking pig.”
“You're right. He was a pig and a coward and a thousand other things. You deserve so much better.”
“But toward the end I started thinking more about what would happen if we weren’t together. Maybe it was me sabotaging it all along,” she said as she tossed the pillow across the room before falling back, her hair fanning out around her like a fiery halo.
“No,” I said, reaching for her hand. “He was the one sabotaging your relationship and deep down you sensed it. You even said something didn’t feel right. I remember. I think the Universe was trying to warn you that he was a lying, cheating bastard.”
“Probably,” she said before sniffling loudly. “I just wish I never wasted my time on him. I mean, what if I missed out on my Angelo?”
“My Angelo. The one who would love me so deeply even after I was gone. That’s what every person wants, right? The one who’ll love them forever.”
“No, some people are selfish and leave before a good thing even starts,” I whispered, hoping she didn't hear. This was about her, not me. My problems felt so irrelevant considering everything happening in the world around me and yet, I hurt. My heart was still hurting, and I was starting to come to the realization that maybe I'd been the one doing all the damage.
“No, sweetie,” Katie said, frowning up at the ceiling. “Taking time for yourself doesn’t make you selfish. It makes you strong. I wish I had done that with Josh. Maybe I would have done it all differently.”
“Maybe,” I said as I lay back too, watching as the pinks of the sunset trickled in through the window.
“So what now? We’ve been here a few days, but I don’t want to wait around for Angelo’s help. I want to go on our Italian adventure before you have to go back and take that dream job.”
“If I take it.”
“Uh, are you crazy?” Katie asked, sitting up and staring at me like I was the biggest idiot alive. “I’ve heard nothing but Bane this and Bane that since I met you. It’s all you’ve ever wanted, and now it’s yours. You still have a week to decide but do you really want to wait that long?”
I shook my head, unable to explain why I wasn’t jumping on the next plane to L.A. and accepting the job in person.
At this point, I didn’t know what I wanted anymore. I thought I wanted to be a corporate event planner, but now, I wanted to find something with more of a purpose. All I’ve based my life around was this idea of what I thought I should be, but what did I really know about life? Up until these past few weeks, I’d barely even lived it.