Eye on the Prize

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Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Marco and Diana were so excited about moving day. The loft was very spacious with its open layout. Even though it was a one- bedroom, it seemed like a mansion to Marco. His humble upbringing began in a tiny trailer, then a row home, and a dorm room. The loft offered an immense amount of space, and it was brand new. It was an enormous home compared to his previous living quarters.

The delivery men brought the new furniture. Afterward, Marco and Diana walked around, admiring their new purchases. Diana gave Marco a big hug and a kiss. “Babe, this loft looks amazing.”

“Can you believe this place is ours? Our furniture choices look like they were made specifically for this loft. Hold on a second. I have some champagne to celebrate our new move.”

“You thought of everything.”

“Don’t celebrate yet. I have no clue where our glasses are.” “No worries. Pop that sucker open, and we can drink out of the

bottle. We don’t need to be fancy.”

Marco opened the bottle, and the cork flew up in the air. Diana let out a little scream of delight. The glasses were still in moving boxes, so they cheered each other with a kiss, then each took a swig from the bottle.

Diana put her glass down on the counter. “The bubbles are tickling my lip. It tastes delicious, but I don’t want to get too tipsy yet. I still have a lot to unpack.”

Marco was unpacking his boxes in the bedroom. He pulled out the mini toy football that his sister Nadia gave him so many years ago.

His heart still ached when he thought about her and the terrible fire that changed their lives forever. It seemed like a lifetime ago.

His thoughts were interrupted when Diana walked into the bedroom with a box. She placed it down gently, put a hand on Marco’s back, and asked him if he was alright. He assured her that he was fine and explained that his sister had given him the football the day of the fire. It was the only possession of hers that he had left. He told Diana how excited his sister was to give him a special gift.

She was so proud of it. Marco treasured it with all of his heart. He smiled as he told her about his sister. So many years had passed since they had seen each other.

Diana lovingly wrapped her arms around Marco and kissed him tenderly on the cheek. She thought it was such a sweet gesture to keep the football after all of these years. Diana spoke softly, “You make me happy, Marco, and your little sister was lucky to have you as her big brother. I know that you went through an unimaginable tragedy. Maybe now is the time to try and find her. You don’t need to let your whole life go by without seeing her. There is enough technology these days to track someone down pretty easily.”

Marco heard what Diana was saying and was in deep thought. He made a promise to himself a long time ago never to be poor again. It simply was not an option. Being poor was part of his past, and he needed to concentrate on his future. His life and the direction it took was his responsibility. He had an iron will and was going to work diligently to become successful. Losing his sister left him with a colossal void in his soul. He needed to put that part of his life behind him to focus on his future. There could be no distractions getting in his way. Nadia’s memory empowered him to make sure he achieved success. He wasn’t going to waste time dreaming because he already decided on his reality. Marco’s diploma was proof that he possessed the skills needed to propel his career into action. It was so much more than wishful thinking. If he took a chance to find Nadia,

he would take the risk of derailing his plans by losing focus. It was much too risky. He made up his mind to cut his losses.

Marco smiled appreciatively back at Diana and shook his head. “No, I am afraid my sister belongs in my past. You are my future, and it is time to move on.” He opened the night table drawer and threw the football in before closing it quickly.

“I’m sorry for overstepping. I was only suggesting that you could find Nadia if you wanted to instead of accepting that she is gone forever.”

Marco tried his best to reign in his anger but still snapped at Diana. “That’s the point. I don’t want to, so drop it. Please! You are trying to control my life, and I won’t have it.”

Diana was shocked and hurt at how quickly Marco’s demeanor transformed from fond admiration to passive aggressive. She didn’t appreciate this side of Marco that shut her down and barked orders. He made it perfectly clear that it was the end of the discussion despite her feelings. So much for open communication. She certainly wasn’t a child who needed discipline. She picked up her box before saying something that she would surely regret later and stormed out of their new home. She wondered how long it would take him to figure out that she was gone.

Diana thought about Marco’s undesirable behavior as she walked to the park. She needed to blow off some steam since his attitude made her furious. Up until this point, she had to admit that their relationship was exceptional. They had communication, trust, respect, and they were very compatible as a couple. For the most part, they brought out the best in each other. The temper that she just witnessed at the apartment was uncalled for and unappreciated.

No topic of conversation was off-limits except for Marco’s childhood. Other than the one time he opened up to her about the fire, he deflected any family questions by throwing up walls. Marco’s reaction to Diana’s suggestion to reconnect with his sister was irrational, making her feel rejected. His calm and friendly demeanor quickly transformed into a dark mood with a quick temper. The vein in the middle of his forehead was throbbing.

She sat on a park bench to clear her head. Today was supposed to be a happy day to be celebrated as a couple. She was annoyed that he had to ruin it with his temper tantrum. Marco was a good guy who lived with the aftermath of a horrible tragedy. Maybe she should be thankful that he was mentally stable after everything he endured. After giving it some thought, she decided not to push him any further regarding his sister. It was essential for Diana to remain patient and listen if he ever felt the urge to talk. It was difficult for her not to take it personally, and it was something she would need to improve. One thing was for sure; she refused to be his punching bag. He was going to have to work on his communication. It could not be a one-way street. She assumed that he would continue to open up to her in due time since their relationship was progressing.

Although it was not her fault, Diana needed to resist the urge to fix Marco. She reminded herself that it was vital for her to lend her support if and when he needed it. After all, he was not a broken object. Everyone heals differently, and maybe he was just protecting himself from more suffering and pain. She couldn’t blame him.

She was so deep in her thoughts that she never saw Marco sit down next to her on the bench until he reached for her hand. It startled her until she realized it was him. Marco took her hand and pulled her into an embrace.

“Babe, I’m sorry. I honestly didn’t mean to bite your head off. I know you were just trying to help.”

“Marco, as much as I love you, I never want to see that side of you again. I don’t deserve your mistreatment.”

“I agree. Please give me another chance. I promise that it won’t happen again. Seeing that football again brought back emotions that I tried so hard to bury.”

“It’s not good for you to keep everything bottled up. I will respect your space and not bring it up again until you are ready to talk.”

“Will you come back to the loft with me? Pretty please?”

She kissed him. “Listen, I know you have been through a lot. Don’t take it out on me. I will try my best to be understanding, but even I have my limits.”

“Understood. I’m sorry for being an idiot. I promise to make you happy so that you don’t regret moving in with me.”

“I will give you the benefit of the doubt, and we can start over when we get back to the loft.”

“Thank you.”

“By the way, how in the world did you find me?”

“You shared your location with me before and must have done it permanently instead of one day. It’s a good thing, or else I would be walking around the city aimlessly.”

“You could have called or texted me.” “Would you have answered if I did?”

She thought about it for half a second, then shook her head no. “That’s what I thought. Let’s go.”

Marco draped his arm around Diana once they finished unpacking to admire their new home. “The furniture and rugs we picked out compliment the industrial look of the loft.”

“Can you believe we have a place of our very own, and it is bigger than a dorm room?”

“No, but it will be great to have options. Now everyone will expect us to act like adults.”

Diana laughed with Marco. “We have bills like adults. It is unbelievable to pay for necessities like electricity and water.” The doorbell rang. “Are we expecting anyone? I feel wiped out.”

“While you were busy unpacking, I took the liberty of ordering dinner for us.”

“Now that you mention it, I am ravenous and forgot all about dinner. Thank you for being so thoughtful.”

They ate their meal in comfortable silence while admiring their new digs. It was a long day, and they were both physically and mentally exhausted from the move. You never really know someone until you move in together. Diana didn’t have a warm and fuzzy feeling after their first big argument. She hoped that it wasn’t a sign of life with Marco. If that were the case, it would be a good idea to pack up and go home. She was willing to move on after this argument but would not be so forgiving if his anger became a consistent problem.

Diana cleaned up after dinner. “I thought we could watch a movie on our new bed so that we could be comfortable. What do you think?”

Marco swept Diana off of her feet as she giggled. “I think maybe we can make a movie of our own on our new bed.”

“You are so bad! I am totally exhausted and don’t think that I could move.”

“I will do all of the work. You just lay back and enjoy. We have some making up to do.”

Once the move was complete, the first item on Marco’s agenda was to work on getting a real estate license. It would take three months to study and pass the exam. He was excellent at math, so passing would not pose a problem. The next step after securing a real estate license was to attain a broker’s license. He would need to sell real estate for a year and pass the test. Time was the only factor in achieving these goals. He was confident in his ability to pass both exams.

Drew and Marco spoke regularly, and a frequent topic of discussion was investments. They shared ideas and information on possible ventures. Drew expressed an interest in investing with Marco in real estate as soon as the young man was ready. Drew put aside some money for the specific purpose of buying property. Marco could invest without the licenses, but it made sense to get them in order to access the entire MLS system. He would receive direct information on which properties were available, and there would be no hassle to pay a commission. Also, any real estate Drew invested in would allow Marco to receive a commission. It was a win-win situation for Marco.

When he wasn’t studying, Marco researched up-and-coming neighborhood restoration projects in the city. When the timing was right, he was going to be ready to make a lucrative decision. He was able to keep up with Philadelphia development projects through the contacts he made during his years interning. Marco still kept in touch with his mentor and accepted any offered guidance.

Marco and Drew’s first investment was not only a rational choice but also a smart one. He found a community with an outdoor piazza featuring restaurants, bars, outdoor movies, concerts, lounging, and shopping. The concept was to be family-friendly during the day and enable adult fun with friends after dark. It was easily accessible by train, bus, trolley, or car.

The investment property was an old, completely renovated building with seventeen condominium apartments. The rents ranged in price from $1,600 a month for one-bedroom and $2,200 for two- bedroom apartments. Marco hired Drew’s property management company to handle the day-to-day management. The property manager would charge ten percent of the rent plus $200 a month for a repair reserve. The building location was in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia, which was once nearly abandoned and now wholly revitalized. It was in a neighborhood attracting a younger demographic of professionals. The City of Philadelphia was currently part of an ongoing program called Rebuild, which rebuilt parks, recreation centers, and libraries in different areas of the city. The building had an artsy vibe in a great residential neighborhood. Drew and Marco would make $350,000 per year after property management fees. They paid $1.4 million for the property. At this rate, it would only take four years before they would be making pure profit.

Drew was pleased with Marco’s choice since it seemed very promising. He was highly impressed that Marco did his homework concerning the entire project. Their good fortune continued. While signing the papers, they found out that the property’s location was in a zone where businesses were exempt from most business taxes.

The exemption equated to more money in their pockets. The location of the property was becoming very desirable, thanks to the addition of the piazza. As a result, the cost of living was on the rise.

A few days following the investment property settlement, Marco arrived home more excited than usual.

“Hey, Babe. Whatever is cooking smells delicious, and I brought my appetite.”

Diana kissed Marco and handed him a glass of red wine. “I made homemade baked ziti and meatballs. There is plenty of food to eat. Why don’t you sit down and unwind? We can savor a glass of wine before dinner. You are in a terrific mood, so is it safe to assume that you had a good day?”

“Yes, and mostly because I found this office space in Center City with a fantastic concept. As luck would have it, I was looking at office space and stumbled upon this one. The thirteenth floor of the building has a community shared office space with nine conference rooms.”

“How extraordinary is that? I had no idea the possibility existed to rent shared office space. What a great idea! I am so excited for you!”

“The property manager informed me that this location was recently rebuilt and expanded. There are panoramic views of downtown Philadelphia with floor-to-ceiling windows. The space looks rich yet professional. It would be perfect for impressing my prospective clients.”

“Is it in a convenient location?”

“The location is close to the Convention Center, City Hall, and Suburban Station. I notified the property manager that I needed to talk to you first before making a decision or signing any papers.”

Diana kissed Marco tenderly on the lips. “You are so considerate.

Nevertheless, this is your career. I want you to be happy and trust your decision, so go for it. Since you are the finance guy, I will leave the numbers to you.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Do you listen to anything I say? Yes, it would be wise to choose the shared office space. It is perfect!”

“I could say the same about you. You should pour some more wine. It looks like we have some celebrating to do.”

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