2 Weeks Later
“Ok, can you hear me?” I asked the laptop sitting on Nonna’s dining room table.
“Loud and clear, babe, but turn on the video part so I can see your gorgeous face. It’s been too long,” Katie said with a laugh as Angelo continued to fiddle with the new WiFi router. I clicked the “Allow Video” button quickly, revealing a very happy Katie and a face I wasn’t expecting, Antonio.
“Buongiorno, Sophia,” he said with a wave and a smile. They were in our apartment back in L.A., sitting at the island.
“More like buonasera,” I joked as I looked at the clock. “It’s almost dinner time here, but I’m setting up the surprise for Nonna. Do you have it ready?”
“I got you, girl. It’s all ready. You just need to get Nonna Lucia there, and I’ll forward the call.”
“Awesome.” I stole a quick glance toward Nonna as she sat outside and relaxed. She had no idea what was happening. “Get it ready now. I’m going to go tell her I have the pictures set up.”
“Done and done,” Katie said as I closed the video and walked outside.
“Nonna, could you come here for a moment? I want to show you some of the wedding photos,” I said before nodding toward Angelo. “I want to show him too, but he says he’s busy.”
“Yes, yes, I’ll be right there,” she said as she lifted herself slowly from the patio chair and walked over, her yellow sundress glowing in the afternoon light.
“Ok, sit here, Nonna,” I said, holding out the chair in front of the screen.
“Where are the pictures?” she asked as she looked at the blank screen. “I don’t understand.”
“Oh, you just need to click the picture button right there, and it pops up,” I said as she tried the mouse and moved it to the video button.
Instantly, the picture of my mom popped up, her face smiling as she sat in our living room back in Napa.
“Oh Mama, it’s really you,” my mother said before covering her mouth with her hand. She started smiling and laughing as we waited for Nonna to understand what was happening.
“Piccola? How is this working?” Nonna asking, looking from the screen to me and then back to the screen, where my mother was wiping the big puffy tears from her cheeks. “Oh, my piccola, I thought I’d never see you again.”
“I know, Mama. I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry,” she said as she dabbed at the tears with a tissue.
I smiled over at the screen for a second before motioning for Angelo to leave with me and wait outside. This was a moment they needed to share alone.
“Thank you for everything,” I said as we took the seats furthest from the door. “I couldn’t have done it without your help.”
“Nonna Lucia is my family, too. She deserves to be happy,” Angelo said as he smiled over at me. “You know, my nonnos still talk about you. They said I should have followed you to Rome, but I know in my heart that you and I...it’s not what either of us need.”
“I’m sorry that I remind you of her."
“That’s the thing, Sophie. You don’t. No one looks like her or reminds me of her, because to me, she was my divine angel. My love and my life. Just because they see her in you doesn’t mean I do, and that’s ok. Living with that love and then losing it...it’s not something I can move on from. Not yet. Two years feels like an eternity without her, but there is still so much I need to do before I can even think about finding someone else.”
“And that’s ok,” I said as I squeezed his hand. “You’re an amazing person, and one day, when you’re ready, you might just find someone else who won’t serve as a replacement, but as a new memory.”
“After losing my parents and Helena in the same year, it was hard to see a reason to keep living, but Nico, Flora, and I made it through. Them better than me, but we made it. I don't know if I'm ready to try again. ”
“We don’t have to talk about it,” I said as we looked each other in the eye. “You don’t owe me an explanation. Come here,” I said as I stood. “I need a hug, and I know you do too.”
Angelo stood as if it took every ounce of his being to move, but then I was wrapped up in his arms as his whole body shook with sadness. We stood there for a while until the tears stopped and the sadness dissipated. All that was left was room to heal.
“I’m sorry,” he said as he stepped away, his face smudged red from the tears, but there was something else there. He looked like he was at peace. “No one knew how much it hurt and seeing you being offered over and over by my nonno made me want to keep my distance, but I guess I need a little crazy American in my life.” He laughed softly for a moment as if in disbelief.
“Now, I know you’re talking about Katie,” I said as I laughed through the tears forming on my own cheeks. “Crazy is definitely not the right word for me.”
“You’re right,” he said as we sat back down, appreciating the remaining moments of my last day in Italy. “You’re family."
“Soooo, I have news!” Katie said the second I stepped back into the apartment. She didn't even give me enough time to drop my backpack as she pulled me into her chest for a much needed hug. “You know, it can wait till you shower.”
I shook my head and closed the door, trying not to laugh. It was good to hear her voice.
“Oh, no. You can enjoy the travel musk as I get myself a snack. Airplane food made me want to vom.”
“Ok, ok, guess what?” she asked as I grabbed a bag of cheese curls and considered waterfalling them into my mouth before dumping some into a bowl and pretending I was a lady.
Katie was not amused. She obviously wanted my full attention.
"Fine." I set the bowl aside. "What is this news?"
“Antonio spoke with Giovanna, and they’re bringing La Violetta to L.A.! And you’re going to be the event planner/marketing coordinator/something else that I kinda forgot.”
I just looked at her like I had hallucinated everything she just said. In a panic, I shoved more cheese curls into my mouth.
“You’re kidding,” I said, but it sounded more like “Murkebing.”
Katie didn’t even need the translation.
“Nope,” she said as she did her little happy dance. “He’s going to setup the store with Luciano and Damian until it’s up an running, but they want you to help with the startup.”
“And what about you?”
“Shoe model, duh,” she said with a laugh. “Actually, we’ll be working together. They think we’d work best if we tag team it, so I kinda already said yes for you. Don’t hate me. We start tomorrow.”
“So where’s the store going?”
“Rodeo. Obvi. And they’re going to make a killing there, plus it’s European and you know how much those model types love bragging about where their shoes are from. It’s pretty surreal, actually, but yay for future rent money!”
“Ah, I can’t believe it!” I said as I jumped off the chair and hugged her. “We’re actually going to be ok.”
“It’s us. Did you really have any doubt?”
“True. So are you and Antonio...”
“Dating? Yes, but we’re taking things slow. Like snail pace, we've-only-gotten-dinner slow. We're going out again tonight, but he's running late. He's getting his apartment stuff squared away, which feels really sudden. But we agreed he's not moving here because of me. That would be way too intense and no one needs that. But yeah. We could say it's promising."
“Oh, wow. That's...that’s great,” I said as I quickly stepped away. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry. I’m getting airport all over you before date night.”
“Nah, I was kidding. But now I feel bad. It’s your first night back. I should be here.”
“No, you shouldn’t. Now show me what you’re planning to wear because I know you’re dying to.”
“How do you know these things?”
“It’s a gift,” I said as we went over her plan of action for the evening.
Antonio picked her up a little before seven, leaving me to a well-deserved hot shower and one of those amazing smelling face masks with eucalyptus and some other exotic spa minerals.
After it was all said and done, it was close to eight, meaning that I could easily have gone to bed and slept through the rest of the weekend, but if I wanted to give myself a fighting chance this week, I was going to say no to jet lag.
It was strange being back in L.A.. Leaving Italy felt like leaving home, which wasn’t how I expected to feel when I first left to see Nonna, but, looking back, I could feel a part of my heart that stuck behind, waiting to join me when I returned.
Impatient with my new revelation, I flopped on the couch, phone in hand, as I waited for the screen to light up with what I presumed would be a few texts from people I didn’t tell I was leaving, but what appeared was far worse than I ever could have imagined. 58 missed text messages.
It had been so long since I even had to worry about my phone that just reading through all the random messages from the past two months felt foreign to me. Granted, most were from my mom asking if I was doing ok and the interns making sure I wasn’t the victim of Marjorie’s hit list, but at least thirty of them were from Josh’s friends, warning me that my best friend was a “classless skank.”
I read through them slowly, watching as random numbers I didn’t even recognize harassed Katie and said the most atrocious things about her. She was a lot stronger than I would have been because these people were saying things that only Josh could have known about her sexually with the intent to ruin her reputation forever.
But that wasn’t it. There was one last text hidden under the rampage of rude comments, and it was a simple one from Ari.
Ari: I’m sorry.
Yeah, that wasn’t cutting it.
I threw down my phone, angry that my phone was being used against my well-orchestrated plan to forget Ari and move on with my life.
But the longer I sat by my window, looking out into the shadowed streets instead of the peaceful Tuscan hills I had grown to love, I felt like I’d never left at all and that Italy was only just a daydream I concocted to get myself over Ari when that crashed and burned.
I did, however, notice that for a brief moment, seeing his name on my phone made me wish we were starting over. Unfortunately, reality was never as romantic as my books. There was always too much being left to desire in the grand-gesture-of-love department.
My phone lit up for a moment, revealing the smiling picture of my mom from our trip to Santorini.
“Hey Mom,” I said as I closed the curtains for the night.
“Hi sweetheart, did you have a good flight?” I could tell she had something else she wanted to say, but she was being polite.
“It was great Mom. Lot’s of good movies to keep me occupied. How are you?”
“I’m great, honey. Guess what?”
I smiled. It was nice hearing her so happy. “What?”
“I’m going to see Nonna in November. I took some personal time off work, and I’m going to go back and see her. It’s about time that I venture back to Italy. It’s been too long.”
“Oh, that’s great, Mom,” I said as I walked back into my room and curled up under the covers. “How long will you be there?”
“Two weeks, but I have a feeling it will be hard to leave. Last time, I barely made it back to the states. There’s something special there,” she said, her smile palpable through her words. “But you know that now, don’t you? It’s like there’s magic sown into the soil. It’s never the same coming back after a visit.”
“You have no idea,” I said as my mind took me back to the moment I realized my heart belonged to Italy.