Eye on the Prize

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Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Since Marco didn’t have any family, Thanksgiving was the perfect time for Diana to take Marco home to meet her mom and dad. She spoke to her parents beforehand to ensure that any conversation concerning his mother and sister was off-limits. There were plenty of other topics to talk about anyway.

Marco was noticeably happier whenever he was in Diana’s company, so he was open to spending Thanksgiving with her family. Meeting a girl’s parents was usually a dreaded event. Sometimes it was worse than a job interview and absolutely nerve-wracking. He wasn’t looking forward to having his life examined under a magnifying glass, but he had to hope for the best since he cared about Diana.

Hopefully, everyone would enjoy spending time together during the festive holiday season.

When she pulled up to the house, his first reaction was that she must have made a wrong turn. After she put the car in park, it became apparent that this was their destination. When he imagined Diana’s childhood home, it certainly wasn’t this extravagant. It was a far cry from the ugly trailer he lived in during his childhood. He was embarrassed to get out of the car because her house was too intimidating for him. It was apparent that Diana lived in luxury since this was her childhood home. It was a huge ranch style house situated on two acres of land in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.

Marco knew a little bit about local history, and this area was one of the many towns referred to as the Main Line. The Main Line referred to the towns in the western suburbs of Philadelphia that the Philadelphia Railroad used to go through. The neighborhoods in this region were considered affluent and classy. He was definitely more nervous about meeting her parents now after seeing this house that was definitely out of his budget. Well, here goes nothing.

Marco was relieved that a butler didn’t answer the door. Diana’s mom Kaitlyn greeted them enthusiastically and was thrilled to give Marco the grand tour. The home was one that he would expect to see in Architectural Digest. The kitchen was a dream come true with custom cabinets, quartz countertops, a chef’s stove with a grill, and a wine refrigerator. The living room, den, and master bedroom each had a fireplace. The basement was the best room in the house with a pool table, pinball, foosball table, air hockey, darts, and a built-in bar. If that wasn’t enough to keep guests entertained, they could watch a movie on the giant screen and relax in one of the six recliners. The backyard highlight was an inground pool, a custom outdoor barbeque kitchen, and a custom shed that served as a cabana. Out front, there was a three-car garage and a circular driveway. The home had to be worth half a million dollars.

Diana probably had no idea how lucky she was to grow up having everything she could want at her fingertips. Marco chalked it up to the luck of the draw. It wasn’t her fault that she was born into a family that lived very comfortably. They would never know the feeling of having to go hungry due to a lack of money. He never experienced the luxury of eating steaks and seafood. If they ate the food before his mother’s next shopping trip, the only choices were mustard sandwiches, spam, hamburger helper, ramen noodles, crackers, hot dogs, or whatever scraps were found to satisfy the sharp hunger pains.

Marco and Diana’s dad hit it off so well; both were oblivious to anyone else in the room. Drew was guarded at first toward Marco and was trying to feel him out. He was playing the overprotective dad until Marco told him he was majoring in finance. Drew’s career was in finance, working for a property management company. After discovering that they shared a common interest, they suddenly became best buddies. The walls came crumbling down instantly.

Their conversation turned to finances and investments and was going strong. There was no end in sight. Diana needed to break up their little bromance. She told them to talk shop some other time.

Thanksgiving was a time for watching football and consuming as much good food as possible.

As if on cue, Kait called them to dinner. Marco never saw so many dishes. A wide variety of delicious food covered the dining room table. Everyone ate and talked throughout the meal. They were so full, and no one could move afterward. Kait was an excellent cook.

Marco could understand why Diana had trouble leaving home to go to college. She was lucky to have a mother and a father who loved and cared for her. He never experienced a lasting love since his mother was taken away from him at a young age, and his father could have cared less.

Marco took to Diana’s family instantly. She could not believe how quickly he won her parents over. They even invited him to stay at the house during school breaks and holidays. Life was treating her very well, and she was savoring every moment.

Marco was apprehensive about spending Christmas with Diana’s family but was pleasantly surprised. Instead of participating in gift- giving, they rented a mountain house and took pleasure in experiencing Christmas traditions. He had a blast ice skating, making homemade ornaments, cookies, gingerbread houses, and attending the town tree lighting. Diana’s family also took part in a charity toy drive for children.

It was surprisingly the best Christmas without the pressure of gift- giving. Spending time together and observing the true meaning of the holiday was their gift to each other. Diana and Marco made homemade ornaments for each other. Instead of missing out on the best parts of the season, the family embraced all of the holiday traditions. It was refreshing not to have any outside distractions.

Once they returned to Philadelphia, both of them had work obligations. The rest of the winter break flew by fast. It was time to go back to college and hit the books.

The fraternity hosted a formal spring dance in Ocean City, Maryland, and Diana was naturally Marco’s date. The Hilton Suites Oceanfront hosted the event. Marco disliked dancing, but he put in the effort to make Diana happy. She tried not to torture him too much and danced with her sorority sisters most of the night. After the dance, their group of friends went back to the hotel and drank some Natty Lights in the hot tub. The next day was sunny and beautiful, with no wind. It was warm enough to hang out on the beach, although much too cold to swim in the ocean. They were happy to relax on the beach while drinking from the full cooler of brews and munching on snacks. Most of their money spent was toward renting a hotel room for the weekend, so it was essential to cut corners in other areas.

College students were exceptional at stretching a dollar when it came to spending their own money. Mom and dad’s dollars were so much easier to squander.

The friends partied that night at the Skye Bar. Naturally, everyone pre-gamed back at the hotel, so they didn’t have to spend money on expensive drinks. Diana decided to splurge on a tiramisu martini. It was made with vanilla vodka, Kahlua, white chocolate liqueur, and amaretto in a chocolate drizzled glass. The drink was absolute heaven in a cocktail glass. It would have been smart of her to stop after the first drink, but it was so delicious that she ordered a second. She barely made it back to the hotel room before she started to get sick. Marco was a true gentleman as he held back her hair and took care of her. When Diana finished getting sick, Marco took off her clothes and tucked her into bed. It was funny how she remembered the silky sheets feeling refreshing and comforting against her skin.

She woke up the next morning under a mountain of covers in her bra and underwear. Her head felt as if someone hit her with a baseball bat. Diana had one eye open, and the other eye was squinting. She looked like a pirate. The sun was obnoxious and blinding, and the last thing she needed today. Her mouth was

parched and tasted vile. She was dehydrated and thirsty. Marco brought her a can of cola with a straw to sip on.

“Good morning, gorgeous. Sorry, you were sick last night.”

“It was so sweet of you to take care of me. I am so embarrassed that you had to see me retching. It was not my finest moment.”

“Nonsense. At one time or another, we all took a turn drinking too much, so there is no need to apologize. I would never judge you for making a mistake. You are not a big drinker, so I am pretty sure two martinis would have been enough without pregaming.”

“I don’t understand. I drink rum cocktails all the time without getting sick.”

“Let’s look it up on my phone. Here it is. A rum and coke drink contains about thirteen percent alcohol. Martinis contain almost thirty percent alcohol. It may have tasted like dessert, but those drinks kicked your ass, sweetheart.”

“Well, that explains why I was throwing up all night. I feel like someone ran me over with a bus. Would you be disappointed if we leave early today? The idea of food makes me sick to my stomach.”

“I figured as much and have already packed the car. We can leave right now if you want or as soon as you are ready.”

“Marco, I love you. You are a lifesaver. Have I told you that you are the best boyfriend a girl could have?”

“No, but I wouldn’t mind if you reminded me on the ride home.”

Marco had big plans to open his investment firm after graduation. He spent his summer breaks working at a big firm in Philadelphia in the commercial real estate department. Like any other internship, he started with menial tasks that were not very interesting. It seemed like his work tasks were duties which no one else was interested in completing. He completed every task assigned to him without complaint. No job was too big for him to tackle.

Marco made himself indispensable by working hard and never missing a day. After some time passed, he was more than just “the intern.” He became the “go-to guy” who could be trusted to get the job done. As he continued to prove his value, his tasks turned into projects. It was nice to know that his hard work did not go unnoticed. His duties grew more challenging once he committed to continue his internship through to graduation. Marco learned how to research market trends for investing in apartments and land. He also earned the privilege to attend the annual multi-family MidAtlantic conferences.

The conference was when Marco set his sights on his future career path. One of his job benefits was the opportunity to network with prominent developers and investors in a competitive apartment market. He gained valuable knowledge of investment strategies, current deals, and development activity. He used every opportunity available to him to learn as much as possible. His grandmother taught him to learn as much as anyone was willing to teach while soaking it up like a sponge.

One of the partners of the firm took Marco under his wing and served as his mentor. Marco became his protege because he was determined to succeed. The partner saw himself in Marco because the boy was hungry and so driven that he was unstoppable.

Marco truly appreciated being mentored and was smart enough to learn that a successful investor was not prosperous due to his efforts. There was more than just a little luck involved. The partner was

patient and a good teacher. Together they worked on closing deals, and he was coached and given advice on successful investment practices and methods.

The information was invaluable, and Marco learned whatever his superiors were willing to teach. Not too many interns had the opportunity to gain knowledge and expertise from a seasoned professional. Marco added value to the company, so the partner was committed to helping him in return. It was a responsibility that his mentor did not take lightly. He was a good role model and highly respected by his peers.

Marco was fortunate to have someone who was vested in his success. He never had a father in his life, so it felt good to have a male role model interested in him. His mentor motivated him so much that he just wanted to work hard and make him proud. It was the first time someone supported his personal growth and gave a damn. He could have used it in his teenage years to reign in his aggression.

Marco gave his grandmother many sleepless nights with his antics.

The partner took his time to develop Marco’s skills to give him confidence. He showed him the right way to do things but also encouraged risk-taking. The most valuable real estate investment advice was to look at investment properties in emerging neighborhoods and take advantage of the tax breaks. It was the best way to maximize profits. Another vital piece of advice was not to over-leverage by mortgaging every property. It would be smarter to own some buildings outright to decrease debt.

Diana’s major was in journalism, which allowed her to score a summer internship at a Philadelphia major news network. It felt like a massive accomplishment, although she would have her work cut out for her. When she accepted the job, Diana didn’t realize how lucky she was since she hadn’t met Marco yet. She had to admit that everything fell into place and worked out perfectly.

One of the reasons Diana was ecstatic about her job was because she was under the impression that she would be writing articles all summer. Unfortunately, she misunderstood her future job description. The union rules explicitly stated that interns were not allowed to perform any union tasks, including writing. These labor contracts bound the news station. She spent her first year answering phone calls and distributing mail. It was a disappointing and harsh reality, but Diana accepted it as a slight hiccup. As a result of her dedication, the news station offered her the chance to return the following summer.

The second year of interning was much more interesting because she shadowed an investigative reporter and was able to go to the scene. She also worked on the computer with data entry and logging sound bites. Eventually, she was able to work with an investigative reporter conducting background research.

Diana loved conducting the research necessary to put the words on paper. Finally, she was able to see what her job might look like someday. It was going to be a long road. She had to bide her time like everyone else before she could become an investigative reporter. First, she would have to prove that she was worthy of doing the job by writing local news stories and working her way up the ladder. Like most college students, her delusions of grandeur shattered with the harsh realities of the real working world. Securing a diploma was not a guaranteed ticket into a specific career.

Marco’s relationship with Diana was going so well that they decided to move in together. Even though she was in her senior year, she only needed to finish her internship to graduate. She took advantage of the accelerated courses offered between semesters. It was overwhelming at the time, but now she could focus her time and energy on her career.

A new apartment would officially celebrate the launching of both of their careers. They went apartment hunting in Philadelphia and scheduled six different apartment showings in one day. It was the most significant decision either one had to make up to this point in their lives. The apartment they were searching for was more than a place to live. They preferred a loft-style apartment and an open floor plan that was aesthetically pleasing and functional. Marco and Diana both shared a mutual appreciation for architecture in general.

Looking at so many apartments made Marco’s head spin. He never had a choice of where to live in the past. The process was overwhelming and new to him. There were so many items to consider, and nothing jumped out at him so far in their search. He felt that they would know when the right place presented itself. The fact that it didn’t yet was aggravating. They were down to the last apartment before calling it quits for the day.

When they opened the door to the loft, it was apparent to both of them that they were currently standing in their new home. The one- bedroom loft featured large, dramatic two-story industrial windows with a spectacular view of the city. The apartment had an abundance of character with hardwood floors, exposed white brick and ductwork, and chunky stairs with uncovered sides that looked rustic and solid. Incredible would be an understatement to describe this gem of an apartment. The furnished community rooftop deck boasted a barbecue station and was the exclamation point of the building.

Marco and Diana wasted no time racing to the rental office to sign the leases. They were not about to take any chances on losing their

dream apartment. As luck would have it, Marco and Diana signed the last one-bedroom apartment thanks to their ability to make a split- second decision. Both of them would have been devastated if they were too late. Diana was sneaking looks at Marco while they were signing papers. She was so ecstatic that she could hardly contain herself. After signing a mountain of paperwork and paying a hefty deposit, the building manager gave them the official go-ahead to move in over the weekend. Neither one of them had much to pack.

Their belongings fit in the back seats of their cars.

As they left the building, Diana screamed and jumped into Marco’s arms. “This is the absolute best day of my life. I love you so much. I couldn’t be happier than I am right at this moment.” She kissed him on the mouth as he was about to answer her.

Moving in together was an exciting milestone for both of them.

Renting the apartment together was a commitment that demonstrated the faith that they held for the future of their relationship.

After numerous kisses from Diana, Marco was finally able to speak. “Wow, if I knew you were going to kiss me like that, I would have rented this apartment sooner. It’s wrong to get a man excited when you can’t finish the job. I don’t even have a bedroom until the weekend.”

Diana punched Marco in the arm. “Keep it up, and you will be sleeping by yourself!”

“Not a chance.” Marco closed the distance between them and gave her a kiss that took her breath away. “Sweetheart, there will be plenty more best days just like this one. I cannot wait to wake up next to you every day. Let’s check out a bar in our new neighborhood, and we can celebrate with appetizers and drinks. Does that sound good to you?”

“Ahh, you know the way to my heart is through my stomach. Count me in.”

They decided on a corner bar that had a lot of character with a wood and brick interior. It was very cozy with an eclectic vibe. There were red tea light candles along the bar. They served small portions and offered beer, whiskey, and various innovative cocktails that pushed the boundaries with flavor.

Marco handed Diana a drink menu so they could decide what to order together. “You know I think that our new loft is very cool. It would be a shame to fill it with old furniture.”

“I love our new place, and I agree. The loft has an industrial design, and the furniture should complement the layout; otherwise, we would be mixing and matching. It would be a shame to junk it up.”

“Yea, it would defeat the purpose of getting something new.” “My stomach is growling. What looks good to you? We probably

shouldn’t drink too much if you plan to go shopping.”

“Good idea. You choose a cocktail, and we can share oysters and mussels if you want.”

“Yum. You drive a hard bargain. Deal.”

The shopping trip was more than a success. Marco and Diana ordered various pieces of furniture for the bedroom, living room, and eating area. The loft would look fabulous with the plush throw rugs and couches with rounded corners to soften the industrial look. The palm tree would add some nature to the loft. They were so excited that moving day could not be soon enough.

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