The Broken Lift

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Chapter 3

“Giving someone a piece of your soul is better than giving a piece of your heart. Because souls are eternal.”

Helen Boswell

It was a dark and gloomy night. Thick clouds covered the entire sky. There was a dampness in the air, as if rain would come pouring down very soon. Isabella was alone in her study room, preparing for her entrance exams, when her parents called for her. “Isabella, we are planning to leave soon. We have to be somewhere.”

Isabella had no siblings and she definitely wasn’t going to stay back all by herself. She wasn’t sure where her parents were heading that night but she wasn’t going to pry, as they couldn’t get along whatsoever lately.

“Why would a couple who aren’t even on talking terms want to go somewhere at this time of the night?” was the question that ran through Isabella’s mind as she helped herself to a bar of her favorite chocolate candy from the fridge and made her way to the backseat of her father’s old but neat Honda car. Her parents soon joined her in the car and off they went to wherever it was that Isabella didn’t care to know.

A short drive later, Isabella could guess that they were on their way to her aunt’s house.

It lifted her spirits, as Sonia was her favorite aunt. Eventually, the SAT NAV revealed a terrible stretch of traffic on the highway, so Isabella’s dad decided to avoid the congestion by veering into the back roads. After about ten minutes of driving through dark lanes and bumpy paths, it became obvious that they had taken a wrong turn.

Isabella stared through the window and it felt like they were surrounded by nothing but trees. Had they ended up in a forest? Time slowed down, and she found herself shuffling on her seat, growing increasingly uncomfortable.

Dad had zoomed into the back roads without slowing down, and now they were lost in a place where the trees that surrounded them seemed like the black walls of a fortress - the only light for miles being the headlights of their car.

Isabella stayed silent for a while, listening to her parents argue back and forth about whose fault it was that they were stuck here now. “God,” she sighed when they wouldn’t stop. This was how it was, every day, since her tenth birthday.

All of a sudden, the arguments faded into a deadly silence; there was no sound around but the echoes of their car-wheels grinding on the rocky road. “Look!” Isabella gasped, pointing to a light coming from the distance. Her parents seemed to relax briefly - the light implied there could be an exit that would take them out of the depths of these woods. The car rolled to a near stop as they got closer to the light, and the trio tried looking for signs of an exit. “There… I see it…” Isabella’s dad began to turn right when a truck abruptly emerged from the opposite direction. Their hearts jumped to their throats in sheer fright, while her dad desperately tried steering the wheel to the left. But it was a few seconds too late. Before they knew it, they were hit. Isabella screamed, clenching the seat as the car jolted violently, feeling her body steadily turn numb. The last image she remembered was that of a silhouette running towards them with a phone in his hand before the world went dark…

“Bella, Isabella! Seriously Isabella… it’s time to wake up. You really want to sleep all day?” Her grandma whined on her way out of the room.

“Yes, grandma” Isabella groaned, rolled over on her bed, and yawned.

“Are you still in bed? Isabella!” came another yell - louder than the one before - that finally kicked her into action.

Isabella jumped out of her bed, changed into her bath robe and started brushing her teeth as loudly as she could, to serve as proof that she wasn’t lounging in bed anymore. Minutes later she’d finished with her bath. Now came the real problem. “What to wear?” It was an issue she had since she was 6. Picking the right outfit was a task that could take hours, and more often than not ended with the disastrous consequence of her closet resembling a war zone.

“Since today is going to be a busy day let me go with a white dress…” Isabella murmured as she rifled through the clothes in her wardrobe. She fished out a white dress which her grandma had purchased from a quaint little shop en route her university. Dressed and decked, she sashayed into the kitchen for some grub, and moaned in frustration when she couldn’t find anything to eat.

“No way… grandma actually left the house without making something for me?” Isabella shook her head, dragging her feet back to her room.

She searched her pockets and her purses to see if she had any cash with her. “Full Moon… yumm yumm.” The thought of grabbing something from the local restaurant made her mouth water. It sold the best Italian fare in her area – a cuisine that she’d been a fan of, since the first time her friend had ordered a bowl of linguine for her. “Yes!” she celebrated when she found some change. Rushing into her room, she sprayed some deo on, picked up her keys and shut the door behind her, mulling on what to order throughout her trek to the restaurant.

The morning had been a hectic one for Lucca. He was returning from the store where he’d managed to sell all of the items he acquired from the gang. Then, he’d met with the gang to hand them their share of the payment. “Coffee!” Lucca sighed once he got home. His mind was always ‘on’, and the caffeine in tea wasn’t strong enough lately. He was turning into a coffee aficionado. Brewing a fresh pot, he prepared a mug and downed the steaming drink. The flavor was addicting, but somehow, by the end of it, he was still left feeling unsatisfied. So he stepped out, dove into his car and whizzed off to his favorite restaurant.

February 25, 2008

Full Moon Restaurant

Piedmont Rd NE, Atlanta, GA, USA

12:17 PM

Full Moon was generally a busy restaurant, but the place was quiet now, seeing how it was a weekday noon. Lucca occupied an empty chair at a corner table and picked up the menu card. A few minutes later, a waitress in a black dress came over to his table.

“Yes sir, order please…” she flashed him her pearly whites.

Lucca was about to order a delicious Zuppa di Verze e patate (Potato & Savoy cabbage soup), a dish he loved to gorge on, whenever his mum would prepare it for him, over the weekends.

Zuppa di Verze e patate, please.

Lucca excitedly announced – just as a soft voice from an adjacent table also did so, echoing his order.

Surprised, he looked up at the source of that voice and that was the moment their eyes met for the first time.

She wore an eye-catching white dress that draped her petite curves like silk. Her luscious loose hair spilled over her milky skin in a way that gave her an ethereal appearance. And the smile on her lips was telling - she was excited at the prospect of eating some sumptuous Italian fare. Just like he was. Of course, many customers probably ordered that particular dish since it was, arguably, the restaurant’s signature dish.

But, the manner in which they’d announced it at the same time, and with similar enthusiasm, felt like the episode was meant to be more than a mere coincidence.

His pulse quickened in a very unfamiliar way and that was when he realized that he’d been admiring her unabashedly - taking in every inch of her sexy form. He had to remind himself to look away. However, that didn’t work for long, and he was back, gazing at her while they waited for their orders to be brought in. She knew her beauty had him enthralled, and she didn’t seem to mind it either - in fact, she returned the favor, her eyes playing silent games with his.

Until the waitress arrived with the serving platter distracting him briefly.

“Excuse me; here is your order, sir.” The waitress called out to him twice, before she managed to draw his attention. “Anything else, sir?”

“No,” he nodded gently with a grin, “I’d prefer not to be disturbed till I’m done, actually.”

Her order had also arrived. Leaving behind the piping-hot soup on her table, she rose from the chair and disappeared down the aisles, dropping a playful glance over her shoulder at Lucca before she did so.

As she crossed the dining hall towards the washroom door, he noticed the phone on her table ring. “I have an idea.” In a flash, Lucca stood up and reached across for her phone. Running a few quick coding commands on it, he managed to have it unlocked. Then, he dialed his number through her phone and saved her number on his mobile as fast as he could before she resurfaced from the washroom. Lucca slipped back into his seat, a sly smile curling his lips.

As Isabella returned to her table, she noticed that her mobile had moved from its spot slightly, but brushed it off. Adjusting her chair so she sat away from his direct line of sight, she began slurping on her soup.

Lucca picked up his soup spoon, sipping on it slowly, somehow not as famished as he’d been a few minutes ago. “How am I meant to break the ice... and start a conversation?”

Finally, he mustered his nerves, and picked up his mobile.

“How was the soup?” Lucca typed before pressing send, his eyes on her.

Isabella glanced at the message notification on her phone and ignored it. Lucca gestured at his phone, letting her know the message was sent by him. After a quiet spell, she typed something on her keypad and he hoped it was a reply to him.

He’d been clutching his phone tightly, when the notification buzzed in his palm.

“Tastes good.” was the message that popped up on his phone screen. A smile teased his lips as he stared at the ten letters she’d sent him. The moment was right. He had to try build a flame on the few sparks they had going between them now. “What am I supposed to ask her next?” Lucca drummed his fingers on the table, ruminating on how to follow up on his flirty act.

“Have we met before?” He texted her. He hoped it wouldn’t be an odd question to ask – seeing how Full Moon was a popular restaurant in this part of town, and he was a regular here.

She responded with a raised-eyebrow emoji, darting him a skeptical frown.

He chuckled, typing his introduction quickly, lest these special seconds passed. “I am Lucca. And you are…”

“Isabella. But you can call me Bella - just make sure you don’t sound like my grandmother while doing that.” She bit her lips as she pressed send, forgetting for a bit that he was a complete stranger.

His chuckles morphed into a full-blown laugh. “Sure. I’ll try - Bella.”

“I’m sorry for that,” she punched the words in, about to shoot the text across, when Lucca’s message showed up on her screen.

“What is your favorite dish?” It wasn’t the sassiest question, but he wanted to keep the chat going with this beauty.

“Hmmm,” She blinked, “actually my favorite dish is Mexican chili fries. I love Italian cuisine too, especially linguine. But, I wanted to try a different dish today, so I ordered the soup.”

Having read the reply twice, Lucca thought of going over to her table and joining her - but he didn’t want to scare her off by coming on too strong. From the corner of his eye, he caught her checking the time. Did she have to be somewhere?

He slurped his now cold soup in a hurry. By the time Isabella had gotten up to leave, he paid the bill and rushed ahead, to catch up with her.

Isabella turned around, on hearing his approaching footfall.

“Hey,” he smiled, adjusting his outfit, “so… when shall we be meeting next?”

Isabella hesitated for a while, partly-abashed partly-amused. “Hmm... I can’t say, I’m not really an outdoorsy person.” She shrugged, “I guess… we’ll have to wait and watch.”

“Bye” Lucca sighed, as he watched her disappear into a turn at the end of the street. “Ugh, I should have offered her a lift home,” he kneaded his brows, cursing the unromantic side in him.

Isabella rushed home as quickly as she could, figuring out that she had spent almost an hour in the restaurant, chatting with a stranger for most of it. Half the day was already gone, and there was still a long list of chores waiting to be done. But her mind wandered back to the first message he sent to her. Licking her lips mischievously, she browsed through their banter, muttering to herself. “I really did have a good time... maybe we should meet again, Lucca?”

It’d been days since their sweet encounter at the restaurant, but Lucca kept in touch with Isabella regularly through text messages and phone calls. In fact, he wouldn’t have it any other way, seeing how he couldn’t stop thinking about her since the first time he’d laid eyes on her. He wanted to take her out the following Saturday, but she declined because she had a class to attend. She was learning interior design at a private school, after health complications had brought her regular college life to a premature end.

“How about Sunday instead?” She suggested, “I could come over to yours, and we could watch a movie together.”

The wait for Sunday had been a torturous one for Lucca.

March 02, 2008

Parkland Dr NE, Atlanta, GA

05:17 PM

As Lucca heard a knock, he hastened to open his door, sure it was her. She had messaged him minutes ago, letting him know she was on her way to his house.

“Hey,” he greeted and ushered her in. She walked with him, surveying his home with an impressed nod – the interiors were quite swanky and neat for a bachelor pad. In her hand was a bouquet of daffodils she’d brought for him. Spotting an empty vase on a corner table, she went across to tuck the bouquet in.

“Women can bring men flowers too, you know.” Isabella winked, as she arranged the stalks. The buds were already blooming, adding a bright splash of buttery yellow to the room. “What a nice place you’ve got,” she added.

“Thanks. Grab a seat,” Lucca smiled and headed for his refrigerator to get Isabella something to drink. “Alcoholic or non-alcoholic?” He shouted from across the room, since he did not know her preference.

“Wine… if you have some?”

“Fruit wine?” He returned with a bottle and two chalices, and sat down on the couch, beside Isabella.

The pair chatted at length. He shared everything about his family at France, and about his life after coming to America. When he mentioned that his living arrangements had been rough until he got lucky, Isabella’s brows furrowed in displeasure. Lucca was smart enough to achieve anything he set his sights on – he shouldn’t have to put up with a rough life. “Speaking of which… remember how you unlocked my phone at the restaurant the other day?” She quipped. A second later, they were rolling in fits of laughter.

Isabella then opened up about her past, letting him know how her parents had perished in an accident, and how she’d been living with her grandmother since. By the time she’d finished with the story, tears were running down her eyes. Lucca edged closer, his heart growing heavy at the sight of her grief. A moment’s hesitation later, he slipped an arm around her. “Please don’t cry Bella.” He rubbed her shoulders gently. “And look at these tears – they’re soaking up my shirt!” He hoped the jesting would get her tears to stop.

She lifted her head, watching him. At first, Lucca didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t used to comforting anyone – much less a girl he was smitten by. So, he followed his instincts and began wiping her tears awkwardly with his thumbs. A faint smile crept up on her lips as he pulled her closer. Without much thought, he leaned in and kissed her. It felt like the right thing to do under the circumstances. A blissful thirty seconds later, Lucca broke the kiss. “I’m sorry.”

Isabella read his expressions briefly and then returned her lips to meet his. Lucca slid a hand behind her head, tenderly cradling her cheek with the other, moving his lips over hers in a passionate rhythm.

As they eventually surfaced from the kiss, catching up on their breaths, they smiled at each other. Lucca hugged her close, and Isabella clasped his back tightly, whispering by his ears. “I love you.”

As Lucca and Isabella got chatty again, they spoke about their love for Italian culture and cuisine. Lucca confessed that he was fascinated with everything Italian. He asked Isabella if there was any particular reason she preferred visiting the Full Moon restaurant. She admitted that she liked a thing or two about Italian culture too – including their songs and their movies, of which she recommended one in particular.

Lucca sprung to his feet, startling her. He went over to his neatly arranged stack of discs and picked out one. She watched as he twirled the disc on his index finger and blew a few specks of imaginary dust from both sides of it, before placing it gently on the record player. She broke out into a grin, charmed by his antics. The little things he did - the way he smiled, the way he moved – had the strangest, most thrilling effect on her. Of course, it was his handsome face and playfulness that drew her to him at first. That and the fact that he was both, gentle and genuine at heart. But, she realized there was so much more to him - traits that she rarely noticed and admired in others.

She adored his witty conversations that made her laugh, as much as she cherished the quiet manner in which he listened to her. Not to mention, he was organized too. Why, even the arrangement of his discs was immaculate.

She observed him with an idyllic look while he happily sang along to Vasco Rossi, his feet moving in exaggerated steps, “Basta poco, A fare bella figura, Basta poco Basta esser buoni la domenica mattina.”

“You do put me in a good mood, Lucca.” Isabella said as she tucked her hair behind.

“That’s good, come,” he beckoned, pushing up his sleeves and placing his specs on the table. “Dance with me.”

“I’ll just watch,” she replied sheepishly, knowing there was no way she could move with his ease and flair. She would end up stepping on his feet.

“Okay… as you please. If you don’t want to dance, I’ll just have to tell you about how I lost my jacket in primary school.”

“No, stop!” She tossed a cushion at his leg, biting down a giggle. “You’ve told me that story three times already. I have it memorized from start to finish.”

“Then, next time, just dance with me. But first, I’m making you coffee.”

Isabella refused the offer, stating that the wine was good enough. However, he would have none of it.

“No one refuses Lucca’s specially brewed coffee.” He lifted the stylus back to the beginning of the song and went off, humming the notes.

Lucca and Isabella were to go on a date the following weekend, and Isabella was at the mall to purchase a new dress for the occasion. She wouldn’t have gotten the dress, if not for the intervention of Linda, her best friend. Linda picked a skimpy multi-colored dress and a navy-blue gown from the clothes rack, and paid for it before Isabella could protest.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

04:17 PM

Isabella wore the navy blue gown since she thought the multi-colored dress would look awkward. Linda helped Isabella with the make-up and they chose a pair of pretty open-toe sandals to accessorize the dress.

Once done, Isabella studied her reflection in the mirror, her eyes twinkling with pride.

Lucca’s message flashed on her screen, “I’m outside, waiting for you.”

“Let’s go.” The girls headed for the door together. He greeted Linda with a quick wave of his hands, and then hugged Isabella, giving her a gentle peck on her head.

As the pair strolled over to his car, he opened the door for her first. After ensuring she was comfortably seated, he took his spot behind the wheel and drove off.

Lucca: “Are you gonna ask where we are going?”

Isabella: “Nope.”

Lucca: “Why?”

Isabella: “Because you’re gonna be like one of those guys who won’t tell me when I ask.”

Lucca: “Well… I’ll tell you.”

Isabella: “Really?”

Lucca: “No.”

Isabella pouted and sunk into her seat. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him holding in a laugh. She rolled her eyes and sat back up.

“By the way, you look beautiful.”

“Thanks.” Isabella muttered with a blush. She turned on the music box in the car and sang along with Beyoncé as her song played.

Lake Clara Meer, Atlanta, GA

05:10 PM

They arrived at the place shortly and Lucca noticed Isabella’s bright expressions dull down. He cupped her cheeks and asked her what was wrong. “This was the last ‘fun’ place my parents brought me to, for my eleventh birthday…” she stuttered, “before they passed away.”

“We could go to another place if you want.” Lucca said shutting his door.

“Oh, really? You want to go back already? Then you’re leaving without me.” Isabella grumbled as she opened her door and stepped out of the vehicle. With a laugh, Lucca dropped his specs in the vehicle and joined her. Isabella pointed to his face and teased him, advising him to put his glasses back on so he wouldn’t stumble along the way like an old man.

Lucca stretched forth to get hold of her, out to teach her a lighthearted lesson, but she gave him the slip and dashed off. He scanned the place but couldn’t find her anywhere. Then, he took a quick walk around the crowded park, but she was nowhere to be seen. He went back to where he’d parked his car and tried calling her number but was left disappointed when he heard her phone ring inside the purse that was lying in the car. He slapped the car in frustration, before a hand softly tapped him from behind. A smile skewed his mouth, as soon as he recognized her perfume.

“Girl,” he spun around and held her hands tightly so she wouldn’t escape again. “You should have told me you wanted to play hide and seek.

I would have come prepared.” Releasing her hands, he slipped his arms around her.

“I knew you wouldn’t find me as you weren’t wearing your specs.”

“You’re really something, aren’t you?” Lucca pinched her chin, bringing her in for a kiss.

Lucca and Isabella had a great time at the park - from biking, to racing against other tourists and sharing a big bowl of sundae. Isabella seemed quite enthralled by the whole experience. But Lucca caught himself spending most of the date stealing glances of the love of his life, her smiles inadvertently bringing a smile to his lips. They wound down the date at Lake Clara Meer. After feeding the ducks some cracked corns, they began making their way towards the car, when Isabella stopped by a tree and went closer to it, pointing to a beautiful dove perched on it.

“Doesn’t it look so peaceful?” Isabella watched the bird soar away.

Lucca approached her, his feet coming to a slow halt in front of her. “You’re so cute.”

Isabella blushed, dropping her gaze down at the grass. His fingers went under her chin and lifted her head up. His eyes flickered from Isabella’s lips to her eyes and he started to lean in. She did the same. He held her waist, while she draped her hands around his neck and their lips met in a beautiful symphony. A few gentle pecks later, he licked her bottom lip, urging to be let in so he could deepen the kiss.

But she denied him access. He did it again, only for her to deny him again. His hands travelled to her hips and he tickled her lightly, causing her to gasp. He took that opportunity and slipped his tongue into her mouth. Soon, they were battling for dominance, and she took over, dictating the pace of their intimate moments by trailing her mouth down to his jaw before reverting back up to his lips.

Sixteen months later, it seemed things couldn’t have been any better for young Lucca. A stable source of income that he got from doing what he loved, coupled with a nice apartment - and above all, his gorgeous Isabella. It felt like Lady Luck was on his side.

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