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There’s a girl. She’s standing behind me. I don’t see
her. The image of her forms in my mind. She’s angry. No. Hurt. She likes music. Bob Dylan. The Beatles. Goldenbrown eyes and a warm smile. That’s her. Oh, and that smile. It will burn in my memory for an eternity. I close my eyes. There it is. It’s a rosebud of a smile yet to bloom. It will. I’ll make it bloom. She’ll hate me. My heart is hammering inside my chest. I’ll love her. She likes black-and-white movies. Jogging in the rain. She has a broken heart. A broken family. There is no breeze here in the graveyard. My skin imagines a breeze, a tender touch, a hand on my shoulder sliding to my chest. It will happen. She will do that. I hear her step closer. Her name is forming. E. It begins with an E. Thoughts as sweet as a sunset. As bitter as vinegar. That’s her. Emily. That’s her name. The girl I will love is named Emily. It’s the name of a poet. It should be the name of a sonnet. Emily. I smell her perfume. No. Shampoo. Eucalyptus and…lavender. Gentle as her soul. Her soul. My next breath is sharp. I hold it. I shake my head, hard. I bite my lip. Her soul. I see myself taking it. Soon.
Unstable was the word my father used to describe me
at the press conference. I wish I had been there to stand up for myself. But I doubt the officers, as hospitable as they were, would have let me out of jail to make an appearance. Instead, I watched the conference on YouTube days later between packing my bags and ripping up family photos. “My dear daughter is, I fear, unstable,” my father, the actor—I mean—the politician, had said to a large crowd of reporters. “I offer my sincerest apologies to the students and faculty of Ocean High. As a father, it is my primary concern to make sure Emily receives the help she needs. As the Governor of California, it is my duty to assure you this matter will be dealt with accordingly.” “Dealt with accordingly” meant banishing me to my mother’s family in Italy. With the upcoming election, he wanted me out of the way. I didn’t need to be around for it, anyway. I had already cast my vote, one that didn’t require a ballot. If my actions kept my father from being reelected, it was worth the consequences. At least, that was what I told myself. Now, I had to move forward and forget my old life. In Italy. Only, I couldn’t. I really couldn’t. Thinking about the incident that happened at school made me sweat—the cold and achy way. A mélange of fear and regret consumed me. Could a single spontaneous action ruin the rest of my life? The thought made my head spin as though I had too much to drink. I was Emily Edwards, valedictorian hopeful, editor
of the school paper, volunteer at the soup kitchen; I didn’t do CRAZY. But I did, I thought. And now I had to live with it. In Italy.
On that early September afternoon—my first day in Florence—I heaved an enormous sigh and kneeled before a weathered headstone in the church graveyard. The only thing that warmed the chill in my heart was the sultry sun on my bare shoulders. My Angels baseball hat sat low on my forehead, blocking out every part of the world except my great-great-grandmother’s grave. The corners of the headstone were wearing away, and lichen sprouted out of two long, diagonal cracks. Chiseled flowers crowned her name, Editta Corsi. I read the epitaph, translating the Italian to English, wondering who had chosen the sentimental words.
Beneath this simple stone That marks her resting place Our precious darling sleeps alone In the Lord's long embrace
My gaze dropped to the envelope I held. I traced my finger around the pink roses that decorated the front. The stationery was a gift from my mother. She always bought me stuff like that, delicate things I never had a use for but
looked pretty sitting on my desk. My whole body sighed as I reached forward to set the letter, my confession, against the headstone. I thought it would make me feel better to explain to my ancestors what had happened, what I had done. Writing a confession was a silly thing to do. It wouldn’t make me feel better. Really? Truthfully? Nothing would make me feel better. An insect landed on my arm, and I swatted it without thinking. The pain made me wince. I held out my arm to inspect the week-old bruises. The ones shaped like fingers, long and thin, circled the skin below the crook of my arm. On my upper arm, the bruises were navy blue, almost purple, and in the shape of a fist. If it wasn’t hotter than hell, I would have covered up with my sweatshirt. Standing, I brushed the dirt from my jeans and retreated into the shade of an old oak tree. From there, I could see the whole dreary graveyard and the church at the bottom of the hill. Beyond the church was a view of Florence, including the peak of the Duomo, and terracotta rooftops blushing in the midday sun. A moment later, a movement caught my eye. I turned my head in time to see a boy, my age or a little older, kneel at a headstone nearby. There was something striking about the way the sun shone on his face and hair. It brightened his dark features. I lifted my hat to see him better, revealing more of my face than I had in a while. I didn’t care about much anymore, but taking pictures came as easily to me as breathing. My hands found the camera hanging at my chest.
I peered through the viewfinder and snapped a shot, hearing the soft click of the shutter. The boy closed his eyes and frowned. He shook his head as if he were rejecting a horrible thought. When he finally moved, his tousled hair fell over his eyes. He slipped his fingers through the shiny brown strands, sweeping them aside. Something fluttered in my chest as he stood and faced me. There wasn’t a trace of surprise in his expression. Had he known I was there all along? He looked me over, slowly, thoughtfully, like a wine connoisseur savoring a first sip. “Are you a photographer?” he asked in Italian. My mind worked fast to translate his words. “Not officially or anything,” I answered. My camera looked nothing like the cheap crap other teenagers carried around. This one was a gift from my father, my favorite out of the three he had given me. It was the camera he used as a photojournalist before transitioning to a career in politics. A few days earlier, I had come close to smashing the thing to bits, but I may as well have smashed my own heart. The way he studied me was unnerving. “You’re on vacation?” “I won a scholarship to go to school here,” I lied. He nodded. “Your Italian is almost perfect. It must be in your blood.” He stepped forward and smiled. “Tell me. Is it typical for Americans to visit graveyards on their first day in a new country?”
I shrugged. “My great-great-grandparents are buried here.” I signaled down the row. “Over there somewhere.” “I see. You’re paying homage to your ancestors. Noble.” I could tell he chose his words with deliberation, not like a lot of people who say the first dumb thing that comes to mind.
Like I do.
“It’s not as noble as it sounds.” It was a whisper. “Why?” “You’ll have to take my word for it.” I wanted to walk back to the church to find my cousin, but his eyes pinned me there. “Want to know what’s even less noble?” “Tell me.” “I took a photo of you while you weren’t looking.” “To make sure I’m not a spirit haunting this old place?” His laugh was wistful and attractive. I wanted to hear it again. “Actually, it’s because I have a problem.” I paused. “You’ve heard of compulsive liars? Well, I’m a compulsive photographer. I s h am el es s l y t a ke pi c t u r e s wi t ho u t permission.” He smiled, but he didn’t laugh. “That won’t land you in jail.” I looked away. “No, I suppose it won’t.” I had to change the subject, quick. “Earlier, you mentioned I was American. How did you know where I was from?” “You sound suspicious,” he answered. “Maybe I am. So how did you know? Do I have American tourist written all over me or something?”
“Not all over you,” he teased. “Just in one place.” He pointed at something behind me, and I turned my head to look for it. He chuckled and reached over my shoulder, gently tugging on my backpack. Then, I realized what he saw. From the corner of my eye, I spotted the airline label looped around the backpack handle. The word LAX stood out in black letters. I nodded and turned my gaze on him, suddenly shy. And then there was silence, the comfortable kind, as if I were in the presence of someone I had known for a really long time. His perceptive eyes, greygreen in the sunlight, creeped me out. Granted, they were gorgeous, framed by those dark lashes. The problem was his eyes didn’t only peer at me; they peered into me, as if he knew what I was thinking. “I’m Giovanni.” He offered his hand as part of the introduction. At first, I hesitated to take it. But somehow I knew he wouldn’t lower his hand until I did what he wanted. “Emily.” His warm hand clutched mine. At the same time, his eyes traveled the expanse of my arm, over the nasty bruises, and back up to my face. He stared, first into my eyes, then at my mouth. My face grew hot. I felt a kiss coming like some people can smell the rain before it falls. I tried to pull my hand away, but he didn’t release me. Instead, he took hold of my shoulders and pulled me to his chest faster than I could object. My helpless whimper could have come from a wounded lamb. Knee him in the balls. Go
on! But he wrapped his arms around me like metal prongs,
making it impossible to wiggle free. His lips pressed against mine in a hungry way, like he needed to taste me to save his life. I became mush in his arms, my thoughts fogging, my senses tingling. The second he loosened his hold, I scrambled away, almost tripping over my own feet. What the hell was that? He reached out to help steady me, but I slapped his hands away, appalled. How dare he touch me. Anger traveled through my body like a vibration. I leaned forward and struck him forcefully, open palmed across the cheek. My impulsive movement sent me tumbling to the ground, my bruised arm scraping against small pebbles and dried sticks. Men are barbarians. But I already knew that. His knees bent, and his hands stretched down to me. “First, you attack me, and now you want to help me?” I shouted, pushing onto my elbows. “Don’t touch me.” My arms trembled as I shifted onto my knees. I was standing when I spotted a small book lying in a patch of grass just beyond his shoe. Its black leather cover, faded and scratched, had seen better days. I was going to reach for it when I heard someone shout, “Em-iii-leeee?” It was my cousin. I dragged my eyes from the book to look for Carla. She stood near the church door, her hand cupped over her eyes to block the sun while she searched for me. She paused when she found me and beckoned me with an enthusiastic wave.
I clenched my teeth and turned toward him. “You can’t just go around kissing strange…” I began, but there was no one there. He was gone.
written by Rane Anderson read Chapter Two at thelitexpress.blogspot.com
art by Ashley Stewart ashleystewart-art.com
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