mirella castellano

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tiramisú

mirella castellano

tiramisú
A Novel

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mirella castellano

For  My  Love, For  listening  to  all  the  different  endings  to  this  book,  over  and   over  again!   A  special  thank  you  to Mama, For  all  the  Tiramisú  in  my  life!

with love x

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tiramisú.
Copyright  ©  2010-­‐2011  by  Mirella  Castellano.     All  rights  reserved.    No  part  of  this  book  may  be  used  or   reproduced  in  any  manner  whatsoever  without  written   permission  except  in  the  case  of  brief  quotations  embodied  in   critical  articles  and  reviews.    For  information  contact This  is  a  work  of  Jiction.  Any  resemblance  of  the  characters  to   persons  living  or  dead  is  purely  coincidental. Cover  Art:   Photo  by  Melodi  T Design  by  Rob  Persaud Originally  published  online  at   www.tiramisu.mirellacastellano.com

 

Also  by  Mirella  Castellano Spaghetti  Straps Dance  Shoes,  Dreams  &  Lattes

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Contents
1. The Barbecue!.....................................................9 2. Thongs & Magic Wands .................................21 ! 3. Home Alone!.....................................................32 4. A Missing Person!.............................................45 5. Snoopy The Snoop!...........................................59 6. Don’t Bank On It!..............................................72 7. When The Lights Go Out!................................90 8. Numbnuts!........................................................106 9. The Lunch Date!...............................................119 10. Memoville !.....................................................133 . 11. Tiramisú, Zeppole & Cannoli, Oh My! ......153 12. The Presentation !..........................................169 . 13. The Letter!......................................................183 14. Drunk Secrets ! ...............................................204 .
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15. Spring Arrivals...................................................214 ! 16. Easter Feaster!.....................................................223 17. The Love Spell ...................................................237 18. So Long, Farewell!..............................................250 19. Finder Weepers, Losers Weepers.....................260 ! 20. Foul Play !.............................................................274 21. Dear Anne...........................................................286 ! 22. Jack On The Rocks.............................................293 ! 23. Charlie’s Angels.................................................305 ! 24. A Day Of Surprises............................................314 ! 25. Masks & Balls.....................................................326 ! 26. The End!...............................................................337

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1. The Barbecue
"Are  you  coming  like  that?"    He  looks  at  my  out6it   with  disgust.    Git.     "Err,  well  is  there  something  wrong?"    I  look  down  at   "Well...  s'pose  not."    He  says,  shrugging  as  he  walks   myself,  exasperated.    I  actually  quite  like  this  skirt.  Git. away  from  the  bedroom  and  me.    I  stare  at  myself  in  the   mirror,  my  face  now  crumpled  with  frustration.    I  can't  wear   this  now;  he's  ruined  it  for  me.    I  must  look  awful,  horrid  in   fact.    He’s  right!    I  think  to  myself  as  I  notice  how  drab  I  look.     Perhaps  I  didn’t  really  put  much  effort  into  presenting   myself  suitably  for  such  a  bash.    Still,  he  could’ve  been  kind,   more  tactful.    I  push  my  clothes  across  my  wardrobe,  from   one  side  to  the  other  while  I  hunt  for  something  more   'appropriate'.       Filippo:  My  husband.    Mr.  Bloody-­‐'Appropriate'.     Philip,  he  likes  to  be  called  nowadays,  but  he’ll  always  be   Filippo  Antonio  Giordano  to  me.    He  changed  his  name  to  a   more  'appropriate'  one,  one  that  is  more  easily   pronounceable  to  his  stuffy  colleagues.    Filippo  is  far  too   exotic  for  them.    I've  never  actually  asked  him  why  he   changed  the  way  he  talks  and  the  food  he  eats.    At  6irst  his   transformation  was  like  trying  to  make  a  circle  be  a  square  
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or  a  pear  be  an  apple,  but  as  he  practised  being  more  and   more  pompous  it  started  to  work.    He  was  6inally   transformed.         Enter  arrogant  bastard.     He'd  almost  completely  rid  himself  of  his  Italian  

heritage,  almost  concealing  any  signs  of  the  foreign  blood   running  through  his  veins  but  for  his  dark  skin,  eyes  and   thick  wavy  hair.    Those  he  could  not  change  so  easily   without  him  being  considered  weird  or  being  accused  of   having  a  mid-­‐life-­‐crisis.    And  on  this  journey  of  de-­‐ italianisation,  his  attempts  to  drag  me  along  with  him  have   been  aplenty.    One  day,  he  simply  stopped  responding  to   Filippo,  it  was  Philip  or  you  were  ignored,  sometimes  he   liked  Phil  if  he  was  in  a  good  mood.    We  even  stopped  eating   pasta,  too  messy  apparently.    Pizza  was  OK  every  now  and   then,  considering  everyone  eats  pizza  nowadays,  that  didn't   make  him  Italian.    The  only  time  I  get  to  eat  real  Italian  food   is  when  I  return  to  the  home  in  which  I  was  raised.   Finally,  I  6ind  a  dress  with  pretty  cap  sleeves  and   buttons  down  the  middle  and  pair  it  with  a  cardigan.    I  step   out  of  my  inappropriate  out6it,  kick  it  to  the  side  promising   to  never  wear  it  again  and  put  the  dress  and  cardigan  on.     Hopefully  this  will  be  to  his  satisfaction.    My  brow  wrinkles   as  I  examine  my  insecure,  size  12  re6lection  in  the  mirror.     My  hair  looks  shit.    I  should’ve  put  rollers  in  it  or  something,   made  it  look  a  little  6lashy  –  now  all  I  see  is  frizz;  just  long,   brown,  lifeless  frizz.    My  eyes  6ill  as  I  wonder  if  I’ve  let  
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myself  completely  fall  by  the  wayside.    I  blink  the  tears  away   hard  and  brush  off  my  feelings.    As  always. It's  been  years  since  I've  been  to  one  of  these  events   with  Filippo.    An  of6ice  barbecue.    How  riveting.    I  probably   won't  know  a  single  soul  there,  except  for  the  Directors,  who   Filippo  has  had  round  the  house  on  a  number  of  occasions.     They'd  swan  off  into  the  study  and  stay  in  there  for  hours   talking  business  and  drinking  Scotch  on  the  rocks  or   something  like  that.    Wait  -­‐  is  that  excitement  I  feel  in  the  pit   of  my  stomach?    Fat  chance,  more  like  wind.    We  get  in  the   car  and  I  carry  the  large  bowl  of  potato  salad  on  my  lap,  my   attempt  at  “making-­‐an-­‐effort”.      Plus  it’s  a  prop  to  hide   behind  as  we  approach  the  party.    Filippo  looks  at  my  out6it   as  we  move  along  in  the  car  and  then  turns  away;  I  expect   that  means  he  approves  –  I  mean,  I’m  guessing.    We  travel   there  almost  in  silence  if  not  for  the  conversation  on  the   radio  about  the  price  of  petrol  going  up.    He  nods  when  he   agrees  with  the  points  made  by  callers.      The  day  feels  mild   and  pleasant  for  early  Autumn  in  England,  I  look  out  of  the   window  and  daydream,  they  timed  this  barbecue  well,  the   sky  shows  no  signs  of  rain  and  the  trees  are  still.     I  hope  everyone  likes  potato  salad,  maybe  I  didn’t   add  enough  salt;  perhaps  it’ll  be  bland?    I’ve  probably  gone   and  ballsed  that  up  too  knowing  me.    Too  late  now,  I  think  as   I  glance  at  it  through  the  transparent  plastic  lid,  it  looks   tasty.     We  pull  up  and  park  the  car  by  the  entrance  of  the  
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park,  then  make  our  way  towards  the  cluster  of  people   chuckling  whilst  in  deep  conversation.    I  was  right,  I  hardly   know  anyone,  except  Edna,  she’s  been  with  the  company  for   years,  works  in  Accounts  I  think.    She  waves  at  me,  waggling   her  6ingers  as  we  approach.    I  wave  back.    She  doesn’t  talk   much  actually,  quite  shy.    I  force  a  smile  as  people  greet   “Phil”.    He  gets  lost  in  the  moment  and  walks  away  from  me,   leaving  me  standing  alone,  clutching  my  bowl  of  potato   salad  between  my  palms...  holding  on  for  dear  life.     Err.     Ok.     What  do  I  do?    Stand  here  alone?    Say,  hello  everyone   I  belong  to  the  twit  who’s  just  walked  off  and  left  me  here,  nice   to  meet  you.    If  I  were  more  like  Eva  -­‐  she’s  been  my  best   friend  since  school  -­‐  I’d  have  gone  right  up  to  the  6irst   person  to  look  at  me  and  introduced  myself.    Ugh,  I’m   rubbish  at  this  sort  of  thing…  I  never  used  to  be,  but  now  I   just  feel  as  though  I’m  totally  insigni6icant.    After  ogling  for  a   few  minutes,  people  resume  their  conversations.    I  see  an   empty  table  and  don’t  want  to  interrupt  anyone  so  I  mosey   over  to  it  and  plunk  down  the  bowl,  then  stand  around   swinging  my  arms  nervously.    No  one  is  even  looking  over,   should  I  say  hello?    Wait  -­‐  if  someone  new  arrives  at  party,   isn’t  it  common  courtesy  to  invite  them  in  and  offer  them  a   drink,  introduce  themselves  to  you?    Nope.    Nothing.    Bunch   of  a-­‐holes.    I’ll  just  wait  here  until  someone  makes  the  6irst   move.
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The  cool  grass  presses  against  the  outside  of  my   knees  as  I  sit  cross-­‐legged  on  the  ground.    He  loves  me,  he   loves  me  not...  I  say  in  my  head,  over  and  over  as  I  pick  grass   blades  at  my  feet,  wondering  if  it's  a  strange  mantra  to  be   chanting  at  the  age  of  thirty-­‐four.    I  watch  Filippo  turn  the   sausages  with  the  metal  prongs  in  his  hand;  he  prods  the   steaks  and  turns  the  foil-­‐wrapped  corn  on  the  cob.    Standing   in  his  apron  saying  "Executive  Chef"  on  the  front,  he  talks  to   Jeffrey  Gold,  one  of  the  aforementioned  Directors  of  the   company,  probably  waf6ling  on  about  some  6igures   surrounding  their  latest  contract.    Boring.    I'm  half  glad  I'm   not  in  earshot  of  his  conversation.    I  sit  and  watch  him  talk;   he  smiles  charismatically,  although  he’s  totally  rigid,  it   appears  he  can  be  charming  when  he  wants  to  be.    He  can’t   have  been  a  complete  moron  can  he?    I  mean,  I  married  him   for  crying  out  loud.    I  should  be  a  good  wife;  I  should  think   positive  things.    Filippo  is  the  Chief  Executive  Of6icer  of   Pride  &  Brimley,  an  insurance  brokers  and  a  good  one  at   that.    He  knows  what  he’s  doing;  it’s  just  me  who  doesn’t!    I   haven’t  got  the  foggiest  what  he  does  all  day  in  that  of6ice   and  any  time  I  try  to  talk  to  him  about  his  work,  he  tells  me  I   wouldn’t  understand.    S’pose  I  wouldn’t.     Filippo  and  I  moved  to  Chelsea  after  two  years  of   dating  and  a  year  later,  he  proposed  to  me  on  a  beach  in   Spain,  it  was  so  romantic.    Candles  6lickered,  the  breeze  blew  
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gently  through  my  hair,  rose  petals  scattered  over  the  sand   forming  an  aisle  that  lead  me  to  him  on  one  knee  with  a  box   perched  in  the  palm  of  his  hand,  the  lid  pulled  back  exposing   the  shiniest  of  diamonds,  so  beautiful.    The  6lames  from  the   candles  glimmered  on  its  multifaceted  surface  making  it   twinkle.    It  was  perfect.    He  was  perfect.    He'd  paid  some  guy   employed  by  a  local  restaurant  to  play  the  violin  whilst  he   spoke  wonderful  words  of  love  and  devotion  to  me  before   popping  the  big  question.    I  remember  feeling  so   overwhelmed  with  emotion.    My  eyes  tear  when  I  think  of  it   and  of  what  we've  become.    When  we  returned  from  our   honeymoon  -­‐  we  went  to  the  Seychelles  for  two  weeks  -­‐  I  left   my  job  as  Sales  Executive  at  Candy,  a  beauty  and  cosmetics   company.    Filippo  convinced  me  to  prepare  for  our  family,  to   prepare  for  the  children  that  we  were  going  to  have,  the   family  I'd  always  wanted…  except  we  still  don't  have  any   children  and  we've  been  married  for  four  years.    We  rarely   spend  any  time  together  due  to  his  excessive  work  schedule   and  meetings. Moving  away  from  Edmonton  in  London  where  I   grew  up,  proved  to  be  rather  dif6icult...  it  took  me  quite  some   time  to  get  used  to  Filippo's  ways  and  my  new  surroundings.     It  was  as  though  once  Filippo’s  had  me  all  to  himself,  away   from  my  family  and  from  the  things  I  had  known  and  loved,   he  began  proving  that  these  promises  were  merely  words   and  were  empty  ones  at  that.    I  don’t  know,  I  think  that’s  
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when  things  started  to  change  for  me;  I  began  to  feel   frustrated  without  work  to  motivate  me.    I  was  bored.    I  was   lonely.    Half  the  time  he’d  return  from  work  and  I’d  be  in  my   nightclothes,  ready  for  bed  –  at  8:30pm!    The  truth  was,  I'd   never  got  out  of  them  from  the  night  before.    I  know  that   was  my  fault  entirely,  no  man  wants  to  see  his  woman  in   penguin  6lannelette  pyjamas  day  in  day  out,  but  that  was   when  it  all  began  to  spiral  downhill.    I  could  really  see  the   man  he  was  becoming  and  the  life  I  was  really  living,  which   was  certainly  not  the  one  he’d  promised.    Sometimes  I  have   to  think  hard  to  remember  who  I  am.    Inside.    The  person  he   clearly  no  longer  wants  to  spend  time  with.    I  am,  Rosella   Maria  Giordano,  daughter  of  Aldo  and  Eliana  Rossi  from  San   Donato  Milanese  located  in  the  province  of  Milan,  nestled  in   the  Lombardia  region  of  Italy.    But  to  him  I  am  simply,  Rose.   And  so  here  I  sit,  on  this  Saturday  afternoon,  alone  

on  the  grass  and  I  may  as  well  be  invisible  since  Philip  hasn't   even  glanced  in  my  direction.    Is  it  because  I  love  this  halfwit   of  a  man  that  I  stay?    At  what  point  in  a  marriage  do  you  say   -­‐  that's  it,  I’ve  had  enough?    We  have  drifted,  I  suppose  as  far   as  two  completely  different  people  can.    Is  it  salvageable?     Only  God  knows.    What  do  you  do  when  the  romance  goes?     When  the  laughter  goes?    And  then  the  talking?    How  does  a   desperate  woman  get  that  back?    I  hate  myself  for  not  being   what  he  wants,  but  what  else  can  I  be?    I  don’t  even  know   who  I  am  anymore.    
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    always.  

"Rose,  what  are  you  doing  just  sitting  there?"    I  jump   "Sorry,  did  you  need  me  to  do  something?"    I  

out  of  my  skin  and  struggle  to  my  feet  to  meet  Filippo's  eyes. automatically  pounce  into  action,  feeling  as  inadequate  as   "Yes.    Wake  up  for  Christ's  sake!"    He  storms  off  into  

the  direction  of  a  man  with  a  huge  cigar  in  his  hand,  puf6ing   away  like  a  chimney  does  on  a  winter's  evening.    I  stand  gob-­‐ smacked.    Shit,  I’m  shit  –  my  husband  involves  me  in  an   of6ice  barbecue  and  I  sit  here  like  a  wet  blanket?    I'm  sure   the  lady  in  front  heard  him  speak  to  me  like  that.    I  6lush  a   little  and  brush  the  palms  of  my  clammy  hands  against  my   thighs  awkwardly  and  then  smile  at  the  blonde  lady  in  the   red  blouse.    I  look  at  the  scene  before  me,  every  person   chatting  away  to  another,  tittering,  acting  so  proper  and   reserved.    There  are  no  hands  waving  about,  no  loud   outrageous  laughter,  no  smells  of  Italian  sausage  charcoaling   on  the  BBQ  next  to  the  ribs,  or  pasta  salad  being  passed   around,  no  cotoletta  in  pieces  of  fresh  French  stick,  slapped   with  lashings  of  mayonnaise  and  thick  slices  of  juicy  ripe  red   tomatoes.      There  are  no  tarantellas  blaring  out  of  the  old   beat  up  radio-­‐cassette  player  from  someone’s  garage.    That’s   how  we  do  barbecues;  no  matter  where  we  are  or  who’s   around…  well,  that’s  how  we  used  to  do  barbecues.    I  just  I   don’t  6it  in  here.    I  stand  out;  my  thick  black  hair  hangs  down   my  back  while  my  olive  skin  welcomes  the  gentle  warm  sun.    
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Perhaps  that’s  why  he  is  so  keen  to  rid  himself  of  our   culture,  because  we  are  loud,  because  we  don’t  do  things  by   halves,  everything  is  extravagant  and  mostly  over  the  top,   but  that’s  just  the  way  we  are.      Perhaps  he  thinks  we’re   common,  because  we  are  6irst  generation  children  of  Italian   immigrants,  we  have  no  class  like  his  work  colleagues.    I  feel   a  pang  in  my  chest  but  force  myself  to  walk  over  to  the  lady   in  the  red  blouse.    The  honest  truth  is,  “Philip”  has  moved  on   and  I  haven’t. "Hello,  I'm  Rosella,  Philip's  wife."    I  hold  my  hand  out   and  she  shakes  it. "Karen."       "Nice  to  meet  you,  Karen."    I  purse  my  lips  together   "Would  you  mind  handing  these  plates  out  for  me?"     nervously,  "can  I  help  with  anything?" She  hands  me  a  stack  of  the  paper  kind  and  I  decide  this  is  a   perfect  opportunity  for  me  to  introduce  myself  to  everyone,   that  will  make  him  happy,  I’m  sure  of  it.    Hello  I'm  Rosella,   have  a  plate.    Now,  who  looks  the  most  approachable?     Certainly  not  him,  I'll  do  him  last,  I  think  as  the  man  with  the   thick  grey  sideburns  ogles  me  and  raises  his  wild,  over-­‐ grown  eyebrows  at  me,  he  looks  the  type  to  have  wandering   hands.    I  know,  I'll  join  in  with  someone's  conversation,   perhaps  nod  a  few  times.    Or  maybe  I'll  sound  bright  and   happy  and  as  though  all  the  crap  Filippo  says  to  me  actually   sinks  in.    Let  me  just  think  of  some  key  words...  binder,   6iduciary...something  about  a  waiver...  perhaps  I'll  discuss  
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the  market  value  clause...  Oh  gosh,  what  am  I  doing?   I  amble  over  the  grass  to  the  cluster  of  men  and  

women  with  clear  plastic  champagne  looking  glasses,   sipping  on  what  looks  like  bucks  6izz.    I'm  gagging  for  one.     Just  then,  someone  walks  passed  me  with  a  tray  of  them  and   I  grab  two  "I'll  just  take  one  for  Philip."    I  say  before  I  quickly   turn  around  out  of  sight  and  down  one  of  them  in  one  fell   swoop,  then  perch  the  empty  glass  on  the  foldable  table   close  by.    I  begin  to  sip  the  other.    That's  better.    They're  not   really  a  friendly  bunch  of  people  I  must  add.    I'm  dying  for   time  to  go  by  quickly  so  we  can  leave.    Rosella  –  be  a  good   wife.    A  GOOD  wife.    I  think  to  myself. Two  hours  pass  and  I  nod  agreeably  amidst  a  bunch   of  strange  characters.    Why  the  hell  he  chooses  to  socialise   with  these  drips  is  beyond  me.    I  suppose  he  could  be   classed  as  one  himself  being  in  the  insurance  business  and   all.    It's  all  just  so  dull.    Finally  he  approaches  me.    I  turn  on  a   bright  smile. "Get  ready  we're  leaving  in  6ive  minutes."    He  says   bluntly  and  continues  to  walk  passed  me  and  over  to  Karen.     He  stops  in  front  of  her  and  tilts  his  head  as  though  he's   saying  something  pleasant.    A  wide  smile  spreads  across  his   face  as  he  puts  his  hand  up  over  his  eyes  to  block  the  sun   from  them  as  it  sets  behind  the  trees.    So  he  does  have  a  nice   bone  left  in  his  body,  just  never  when  it  comes  to  me.    I  wish  
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he  titled  his  head  when  he  spoke  to  me.    Then  again,  what   would  he  gain  from  tilting  his  head  at  me?    Nothing.    Five   minutes  I  think,  that  isn't  soon  enough.    I  just  smile  and  nod   like  a  loyal  puppy  dog  waiting  for  its  owner  to  take  it  for  a   walk.   On  the  way  home  we  sit  in  silence.    He  really  doesn't  

know  what  to  say  to  me,  and  I  him.    "So,"  he  6inally  musters.   "Did  you  enjoy  yourself?"    He  glances  over  at  me  and  waits   for  a  response.       "Oh  yes,  it  was  lovely,  my  potato  salad  went  down   well  didn’t  it?"    I  reply,  wanting  to  say  the  right  thing  but   really,  I  want  to  tell  him  it  had  to  have  been  the  most  boring   day  of  my  entire  existence.    I  refrain  from  the  truth;  I've   been  told  by  Eva,  that  sometimes  he  doesn't  need  to  know   what  I'm  really  thinking.     "Yes.    And  those  sausages  were  a  treat  weren't  they?"     He  re6lects  on  the  large,  sizzling  ones  that  I  was  never   offered  of  course.    Salsiccia  I  think  to  myself,  translating  the   word  sausage  into  Italian,  testing  myself  to  see  if  I  actually   remember  how  to  say  it.    It's  become  a  habit  of  mine  over   the  last  few  years.    I  know  once  Mamma  and  Papá  are  no   longer  with  us  everything  I  have  ever  known  of  my  heritage   and  the  language  we  speak,  will  go  6lying  out  the  window.     And  it  will  be  because  of  him.    Cretino. "Yes,  they  were  de-­‐licious."    I  reply,  perhaps  a  little   too  sarcastically.    He  doesn't  cotton  on  but  instead  yawns  
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and  I'm  grateful  as  I'm  really  in  no  mood  for  another  stiff   session  of  his  interpretation  of  lovemaking.    It  never  used  to   be  like  this,  although  I  have  kind  of  forgotten  exactly  what  is   was  like.    As  the  years  go  by,  the  memories  seem  so  distant.   While  we  pull  in  into  our  drive,  I  ponder  on  if  I’ll   ever  have  the  guts  to  tell  him  what  I  really  think.    I've  often   tried  to  retaliate,  in  the  past  that  is,  but  it  only  ever  ends  up   in  an  argument...  he  walks  out  and  takes  haven  at  the  of6ice,   while  I  end  up  suffering  with  pent  up  anger,  unable  to   release  it.    Until  I  phone  Eva.    She  just  listens  until  I've   dispelled  all  my  frustrations  down  the  phone  and  then  we   move  on  to  discussing  her  day.    We  just  seem  to  clash  and   we’ve  grown  apart,  is  this  a  bad  patch  all  marriages  go   through?    I  still  love  him…  I  think.    Who  wants  to  go  back  out   there  into  the  big  wide  world  of  Singledom  and  start  dating   again?    Not  me.    Trusting  some  strange  man?    Getting  used   to  the  way  he  sleeps  at  night  and  his  habits  and  learning   when  he  lies  or  tells  the  truth.    Not  me.    It  scares  me  shitless   if  I'm  perfectly  honest.    Perhaps  I  stay  for  all  the  wrong   reasons?    People  always  say,  well  that's  the  man  you  married;   you  can't  change  him  now.    You  just  have  to  either  like  it,  or   lump  it...  some  days,  I  so  badly  wish  I  could  lump  it.

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2. Thongs and Magic Wands
"What  did  he  say  then?"    Eva's  voice  is  clear  down   the  phone  the  next  morning  at  8:00am.    Filippo  is  out   meeting  a  colleague  for  a  game  of  tennis,  so  I  can  talk  freely.   "He  said,  those  sausages  were  a  treat  weren't  they?"    I   mock  him,  trying  to  impersonate  his  deep,  pompous  voice.     We  both  giggle. "I  know  exactly  what  you  need.”    She  tells  me,  whilst   I  stir  the  tea  in  my  mug  until  the  sugar  has  dissolved. "What?"    I  ask,  but  probably  shouldn't  knowing  Eva   and  her  blatant  disregard  for  tact.   "More  sex!"    I  roll  my  eyes  on  my  end  of  the  phone.     Eva's  6ix  for  everything  in  life.    "Seriously,  you  need  to  seduce   him."    She  says  frankly,  as  if  such  a  thing  would  be  an  easy   feat. "Blimey,  I  can  hardly  be  bothered  with  the  little   amount  we  do  have  and  you  want  us  to  have  more?"    I  shake   my  head  knowing  that  it  will  not  6ix  our  fractured  marriage.     This  time  she’s  wrong.    "I  can't  seduce  him,  he'll  laugh  in  my   face."    I  tut,  with  another  eye  roll.    "Ev,  this  is  about  more   than  sex,  we  don't  communicate  anymore,  there's  no   affection,  he  doesn't  even  touch  my  knee  and  you  think  he’s   going  to  suddenly  grope  my  boob  on  a  night  of  passion?"    I  

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blurt,  sarcasm  seeping  through  my  words.    "Ain't  gonna   happen  sista."     "Rosella,  you  have  to  do  something.    You  should   really  make  more  of  an  effort,  honestly.    I  don’t  even  want  to   know  the  contents  of  your  knicker-­‐draw.”    I  can  imagine  her   waving  her  hands  in  the  air  as  she  talks,  pacing  her  marbled   kitchen  6loor.      “Faded  black  briefs,”    she  continues  “and   greying  tangas  with  dodgy  elastic…  I’m  right  aren’t  I?”     She  is  right.     I  should  do  something,  but  seduction?    Finding  the   gumption  to  dress  up  like  a  hooker  and  dance  around  like  a   stripper  is  really  daunting  to  me.    I  mean,  wouldn’t  it  be  for   most  women  in  my  position?      I  remain  silent,  pondering  on   her  words  of  wisdom.    “Fair  enough  if  you  don't  want  to   listen  to  me,  but  I  think  you  need  to  do  something.    You  can't   carry  on  like  this,  you're  miserable,  darling."    I  pull  out  the   kitchen  chair  carefully,  not  wanting  it  to  scrape  against  the   stone  tiled  6loor  and  then  I  sit  at  the  table  with  the  tin  of   biscuits  before  me.   "I  don't  know."    I  reply,  irritated  and  exasperated   with  the  whole  thing.    "I  don't  know  what  to  do.    If  only  I  had   a  magic  wand  I  would  6ix  this  mess."    I  6ish  for  a  biscuit  and   dunk.    Sod  the  everlasting  diet  -­‐  I  need  chocolate  digestives   and  that's  a  fact.    I'm  tired  of  being  a  nonexistent  clothes   size,  where  they  almost  6it  or  are  too  big.    What  I'd  like  to   know  is  why  they  don't  make  a  bloody  size  11?    I  mean,  I  
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can't  be  the  only  woman  around  to  be  an  in-­between-­er.     Today  I  just  want  my  'on  the  fence'  body  to  be  whatever  the   hell  it  wants  to  be  and  I  will  sit  here  and  eat  my  way  through   these  biscuits.       "Come  on,  I'm  taking  you  shopping.”    She  insists.     "Then  we  can  stop  at  that  lovely  place  for  a  cocktail.”    Being   my  best  friend,  Eva  knows  when  I'm  in  need  even  before  I   am  ready  to  admit  it.           "Ok."  I  give  in  without  a  6ight. "Be  ready  in  half  an  hour,  I'm  coming  to  get  you." Precisely  thirty  minutes  later,  Eva  is  banging  down  

my  door.    I  rush  to  open  it  dressed  and  ready  to  go.    Eva's   large  sunglasses  cover  most  of  her  face  and  her  brown  shiny   hair  sits  in  a  chignon.    She  always  looks  so  glamorous.    Today   the  silk  scarf  around  her  neck  adds  a  sense  of  French  mode   to  her  out6it.    Always  immaculate,  she  never  ceases  to  turn   heads,  which  really  isn't  that  much  different  from  our  days   at  high  school.    She  was  the  girl  who  always  seemed  older   than  she  was,  her  hair  the  most  stylish  and  back-­‐combed  to   perfection,  her  make  up  applied  correctly  rather  than  skewif   and  overdone  -­‐  most  girls  had  trouble  with  rouge,  but  not   Eva.    Everyone  wanted  to  look  like  her,  even  me,  if  it  wasn't   for  her,  I'd  still  have  the  wonderful  thick  eyebrows  I'd  so   luckily  inherited  from  my  parents.     Being  a  young  Italian  girl  who  hadn't  discovered  Bic   razors  did  have  its  downfalls…  especially  being  ever  so  
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slightly  hairier  than  my  fellow  blonde  classmates.    Somehow   she  just  knew  how  to  do  all  the  things  women  knew  how  to   do  and  she  was  only  fourteen.    She  said  it  was  the  magazines   she  read,  once  her  mother  was  done  with  them,  she'd  collect   them  all  and  mimic  the  models  make  up  and  follow  the   beauty  tips.    No  such  magazines  were  ever  in  my  house;  the   closest  thing  to  resemble  one  was  the  TV  Times!    And  even   though  we  were  different,  we  were  also  the  same.     Eva’s  mother  is  Italian  and  she  was  raised  by  her   alone  -­‐  her  father  is  English,  but  her  parents  split  when  she   was  young  -­‐  so  she  understood  our  way  of  life.    We  just   seemed  to  warm  to  each  other  right  away  and  over  time,  she   became  more  like  the  sister  I  never  had.    When  she  and  I   became  best  friends,  out  went  the  hairy  eyebrows,  legs,   arms  and  top  lip!    I  welcomed  my  new  hairless  body  and   expertly  shaped  eyebrows  that  framed  my  face,  making  me   look  like  a  new  woman,  ok,  girl.    After  that,  the  wax  pot  and  I   became  very  closely  acquainted.    Seriously,  it  changed  my   life;  once  the  hairless  new  me  surfaced  I  pulled  Spencer,  the   best  looking  boy  in  school.       Ever  since  Eva  and  Adam  split  a  year  ago  she  has  a   different  outlook  on  life:  dump  or  be  dumped.    Now  her  life   is  6illed  with  nights  of  passion  and  days  of  fashion.    She's   undeniably  a  shopaholic.    She  hasn't  had  a  relationship  since   and  says  that  she  is  better  off  alone,  where  she  can  sleep   with  whom  ever  she  chooses.    She  thinks  living  this  way  will  
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protect  her  and  will  prevent  her  from  getting  hurt  again.     Deep  down  I  believe  she  knows  it  won't  and  nothing  can  6ix   a  broken  heart  like  time.    But  she's  my  best  friend   nonetheless  and  best  friends  don't  judge,  they  advise  and   that's  all  I  can  do,  plus  pick  up  the  pieces  when  it  all  comes   crumbling  down,  just  as  she  so  often  does  for  me.         An  hour  later  and  we're  trailing  the  shops  laden  with   bags,  bags  of  things  that  I  don't  really  need,  including  a   bunch  of  new  lingerie.    Polka  dots,  leopard  skin  satin,  black   and  red  lace...  Now  all  I  need  is  an  occasion  to  wear  it.    I   doubt  very  much  these  new  purchases  are  going  to  change   my  life,  or  his,  but  I  suppose  it's  worth  a  try.    Eva  purchased   a  ravishing  pair  of  diamond  earrings  to  go  with  the  other   nine  pairs  she  has.  Gold  strappy  high  heels,  a  simple  black,   one  shoulder  dress  -­‐  one  can  never  have  too  many  black   dresses  -­‐  and  a  Marc  Jacobs  cape  style  jacket.    Shopping  with   Eva  is  always  fun,  she  never  looks  at  the  price  tag,  something   I  can  never  do.    So  when  you're  with  her,  you  just  have  this   uncontrollable  feeling  of  admiration,  that  she  can  just  have   whatever  she  wants,  whatever  her  heart  desires  and  deals   with  the  consequence  of  her  credit  card  bills  at  the  end  of   the  month.    She  wraps  you  up  into  her  world  and  you  6ind   yourself  purchasing  things  you  wouldn't  normally  buy  if  you   were  shopping  alone.    I  don’t  recall  her  being  such  a   frivolous  spender  until  her  relationship  with  Adam  ended,  I   suppose  it’s  her  way  of  dealing  with  the  loss  of,  if  you  ask  
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me,  a  total  prick.   With Eva’s continuous encouragement, I  decide  to  put   a  seduction  strategy  into  place  and  plan  it  for  later.    I  can’t   believe  Eva  managed  to  talk  me  into  this.    Tonight  when   Filippo  returns  from  work  I'll  be  dressed  (or  rather   undressed)  in  the  red  and  black  lace  number,  sprawled   across  his  leather  chair  in  the  study,  since  that's  were  I  know   he'll  head  6irst.       "Don't  forget  to  put  your  new  glossy  lipstick  on  and   the  hold  ups.    Don't  forget  the  hold  ups!”    Eva  instructs  a   second  time  with  more  emphasis.     "Ok,  ok,  but  don't  hold  your  breath  will  you." "What  do  you  mean?"    She  asks,  nudging  me  with   "I'm  not,  I  just  know  Filippo  better  than  you  and  he'll   probably  tell  me  he's  tired  or  has  a  headache  or  case  notes   to  work  on and I’ll be left standing there, semi naked and feeling like a whore!”    I’m  having  serious  second  thoughts;   the  only  thing  that  can  come  of  this  is  humiliation.    I  just   don't  know  if  I  can  do  it.       "Every  man  loves  to  be  seduced.    You're  in  great   "It's  not  much  these  days.”    My  voice  tails  off  and  I   "Rosella,  just  do  what  I  say  and  I'm  telling  you,  he'll   shape  Ro,  you  should  show  him  what  you're  made  of."     feel  a  lump  forming  in  my  throat. be  putty  in  your  hands."    She  tells  me,  "You  have  to  realise,  
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her  elbow.    "Don't  be  so  pessimistic."  

tiramisú

women  think  with  their  hearts  and  men  think  with  a  very   speci6ic  organ  stashed  between  their  legs."    She  nods  at  me   convincingly;  the  shop  assistant  looks  over  in  horror,  whilst   another  nods  at  me  to  con6irm  the  truth.    Oh  God,  all  this   talk  of  organs  has  got  me  feeling  queasy.           It's  7:45pm. It's  almost  time.    My  palms  feel  clammy  from  the  

nerves.    I  stare  back  at  my  re6lection  in  the  full-­‐length   mirror.    Thankfully  I'm  not  streaky,  the  fake  tan  I  bought  has   worked  a  treat  on  my  sun-­‐deprived  skin.    I'm  glowing  like   I've  spent  the  last  week  in  Italy.    My  legs  look  long  and   slender,  thanks  to  the  four-­‐inch  heels  I'm  wearing;  I  can   hardly  remember  the  last  time  I  wobbled  around  in  a  pair  of   these.    My  make  up  -­‐  perfect.    My  dark,  long  hair  -­‐  tousled   sexily  and  teased  with  uplifting  mousse.    My  lips  -­‐  shiny  and   full.    Boobs  -­‐  hello!    Hoorah,  no  muf6in-­‐top  in  these  knickers,   they  6it  perfectly.         Fifteen  minutes.     I  look  at  the  clock  on  the  wall  and  feel  my  stomach  

6lip.    I  blow  out  puffs  of  air  to  try  to  calm  my  jitters.    Fifteen   minutes  till  he's  home.    I  pace  thinking  about  the  6irst  thing   I’ll  say  –  hello  tiger  -­  and  the  6irst  thing  he  will  –  go  and  put   some  clothes  on  your  silly  cow.    Shit.    What  am  I  doing?    I’ve   changed  my  mind  a  thousand  times…  this  is  stupid,  I'm   stupid.    Ugh,  I  can't  believe  I  listened  to  Eva.    Just  as  I'm  
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kicking  my  shoes  off  to  change,  I  hear  the  front  door.    Shit.     He's  here?    Shit.    I  quickly  scramble  for  my  shoes  again...  too   late  to  change,  what  should  I  do?    Crap.    I  wanted  to  be  in  the   study.    Ohhhh  it's  all  going  terribly  wrong.    I  panic  hard,   waving  my  arms  about  like  a  6lapping  duck  before  I  hear  his   voice,  deep  and  purposeful.       "Rose?"    He  calls.    "Rose,  where  are  you?"    Suddenly,  I   hear  another  voice  as  well  as  his.    Bugger!    Buggerty-­‐bugger!     I  don't  believe  it.    A  little  notice  would  have  been  good.     Bloody  hell  Filippo.    I  look  back  at  my  face  and  see  a  slut   looking  back  at  me.    Oh  my  God,  what  a  fool.    What  was  I   thinking?    "Rose?"    He  calls  again  with  frustration  this  time.   "Hello."    I  shout  back  ripping  the  white  towelling   robe  off  the  back  of  the  bathroom  door.    "I'll  be  there  in  a   second."    Shit,  we're  entertaining  tonight?    I  don't  remember   him  mentioning  this.    I  hear  muf6led  voices  as  he  walks  from   the  entrance  hallway  through  to  the  kitchen.    I  have  to  get  to   the  bedroom  and  change  before  he  sees  me  like  this.    The   moment  I  hear  his  footsteps  moving  away,  I  totter  as  fast  as  I   can  across  the  landing  over  to  our  bedroom  and  slam  the   door  shut  behind  me,  leaning  against  it.    My  heart  beats  like   a  racehorse's  hooves  smacking  the  ground  as  it  pelts  across   a  grassy  6ield;  it's  hard  against  my  ribs.    I  pant  for  a  moment,   then  breathe  deep  breathes  for  a  few  seconds  before  I  move   to  kick  off  my  shoes  and  rip  off  my  hold-­‐ups,  hobbling  from   one  foot  to  the  other.    Idiot.    I'm  a  moron.    I  wipe  my  lipstick   off  with  the  back  of  my  hand  and  tie  my  hair  back  into  a  
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ponytail,  the  same  one  I  wear  everyday.    I  pull  off  my  fake   eyelashes  and  rub  my  hands  over  my  face  to  dull  the  make   up  a  little.    Reaching  for  my  jeans  and  t-­‐shirt,  I  hear  his  voice   again.   "Rose,  where  are  the  wine  glasses?"    He  yells,  I  know   he  expects  me  to  be  there  greeting  him  and  his  guest,   serving  them,  being  the  perfect  host-­‐slash-­‐wife. I  pull  open  the  door  with  such  force  I  think  it  almost  comes   off  its  hinges.    "I'll  be  right  there.”    I  say,  my  face  meeting  his   at  the  bottom  of  the  stairs.       "Right.”    He  says,  glaring  at  me  with  a  crumpled  look.     He  furrows  his  brow  as  I  weave  passed  him  down  the  beige   carpeted  stairs  and  into  the  kitchen.       "Hello."    I  say  to  the  guest  standing  by  the  island  in   "Hello,  good  to  meet  you."    He  says  shaking  my  hand   "Nice  to  meet  you  Andrew,  I'm  Rosella." "You  can  call  her  Rose."  Filippo  jumps  in  and  I  cut   him  a  look.    "She  prefers  that  don't  you?"    He  says  and  I  want   to  throw  the  nearest  kitchen  appliance  at  him,  which   happens  to  be  the  kettle.    I  grin  accommodatingly,  even   though  I  don't  prefer  Rose.    Why  would  he  say  that?    "This  is   a  work  colleague  of  mine  Rose.”    He  adds.     "Right"  I  smile  "so  what  can  I  get  you  both?    Wine   "Well  we  weren't  planning  on  having  tea  in  the  wine  
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the  middle  of  our  large  kitchen.    I  put  my  hand  out. and  nodding  rather  stif6ly,  "I'm  Andrew."

Filippo?"    I  ask,  remembering  he  was  asking  for  wine  glasses

mirella castellano

glasses!"    He  snaps  with  a  snigger,  “and  it’s  Philip.”    He  huffs   beside  his  colleague.    Git.    I  force  a  fake  smile  and  can't   believe  what  I  nearly  got  myself  into,  10  minutes  ago  I   looked  like  a  bloody  harlot.    God,  I  must  be  desperate.    He'd   have  surely  laughed  at  me.    Hell,  I'd  have  laughed  if  I  were  in   his  shoes.    Thank  you  God,  I  whisper  to  myself  as  I  pull  the   cork  out  of  the  wine  bottle  dutifully  and  begin  to   pour. "What?"    I  ask  as  Filippo  looks  at  me  curiously.     "What?"  I  press,  feeling  paranoid.    His  colleague  looks  on  in   amusement.    I  place  the  bottle  down.    He  moves  closer  to   me,  looking  right  into  my  eyes.    What's  he  doing?    Is  he  going   to  kiss  me?    Surely  not,  not  in  front  of  Andrew,  he  wouldn't   do  that,  not  even  in  private.    He's  6ixated.    "What  is  it  Philip?"   I  ask  again,  playing  along  but  feeling  edgy  and  self-­‐ conscious.       He  reaches  forward  "What  the  hell  is  this?"  And   before  I  know  it  he's  pulling  something  away  from  my  eye.     Shit.    What?    "False  eyelashes!?"    He  looks  at  Andrew  who   chuckles  while  Filippo  bursts  into  laughter.    I  feel   embarrassed  and  ashamed,  ashamed  because  I  know  why   he’s  found  a  false  eye  lash  hanging  off  my  face,  because  I  was   about  to  buy  my  husbands  love  through  a  tacky  pair  of  red   thongs!    Even  though  honestly,  I  know  it  could  never  make   him  love  me,  or  want  me  like  he  used  to.    I  want  to  cry.     "Where  the  hell  are  you  off  to  then?"    He  mocks  me  and  I   blush.    I  tug  it  nervously  out  from  between  his  6ingers  and  
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tiramisú

pretend  to  join  in  with  the  laughter,  the  laughter  that  is   directed  at  me. "Oh,  it...  it  was  Eva  earlier,  she  made  me  try  them  on.”     I  try,  continuing  to  chuckle,  trying  to  justify  it  all.    I  could   have  sworn  I'd  whipped  them  off  before  I  came  down.    Ugh.     "I'll  be  right  back.”  I  say  smiling  forcefully  as  I  skim  passed   them  both  and  run  upstairs  to  go  and  kick  myself  very  hard   in  the  shin  and  to  check  my  face  for  any  further  remnants  of   the  woman  I  didn't  even  recognise,  the  woman  that  will   never  surface  again.    Ever.

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3. Home Alone
  It's  7:45am  and  beside  me  the  bed  is  vacant.    

Nothing  remains  of  Filippo  but  evidence  that  his  body  that   lay  there,  next  to  me,  but  miles  away,  through  the  night.     Rumpled  sheets  and  a  dip  in  his  pillow  where  his  head  was   resting.    I  breathe  in  the  emptiness  of  the  room.    He  must  be   downstairs  for  the  smell  of  coffee  pouring  through  the  walls   and  under  the  door.    Mmm,  freshly  brewed  coffee  in  the   morning  is  one  of  my  few  delights,  that  and  digestive   biscuits  of  course!    I  get  up  and  6ind  my  robe,  put  it  on  and   shove  my  feet  into  my  6luffy  white  towelling  slippers.    Before   I  pad  downstairs,  I  glare  back  at  myself  in  the  bathroom   mirror,  the  dark  circles  under  my  eyes  adorn  my  face  as   though  they  belong  and  are  here  to  stay,  the  tan  I  rubbed   into  my  skin  a  few  days  back  has  now  slowly  started  to   disappear.    I  brush  my  hair  and  tie  it  back  into  a  ponytail  and   splash  my  face  with  water.     There  he  is.    Standing  by  the  island  in  the  kitchen   with  a  mug  of  coffee  in  his  hand  and  a  page  of  newspaper  in   the  other,  waiting  to  be  turned  over  to  join  the  others  resting   on  the  wooden  worktop.    Look  at  your  handsome  husband   Rosella,  I  think  to  myself.    He  looks  dashing  this  morning  in  
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his  charcoal  trousers  and  white,  stiff-­‐collared  shirt,   unbuttoned  by  a  few  at  the  neck.    With  his  face  clean-­‐shaven   he  reads,  engrossed  in  an  article  it  seems  and  he  has  not   seen  me  standing  here  for  the  last  few  minutes,  staring  at   him  from  head  to  toe,  drinking  him  in.    I  feel  an  urge  to  kiss   him,  I  don't  know  why;  it's  something  we  hardly  do,  except   for  the  perfunctory  goodbye  ones  we  sometimes  deliver  on   departure.    I  feel  a  pang  in  my  chest.    Should  I  say  something   or  just  stand  here  holding  up  the  wall?    If  I  do,  it'll  ruin  this   silent  moment.    When  he  doesn't  speak  and  just  stands   there,  I  remember  the  man  I  married,  the  man  that  made  me   laugh  so  hard  I  would  cry,  the  man  that  made  me  feel   important  and  loved.    Now,  I'm  just  Rose  and  sometimes  I   hate  him,  so  desperately...  but  other  times  I  love  him  equally.     I  can  smell  his  cologne  from  where  I  stand.    It's  delicious.     It’s  the  one  I  bought  him  for  Christmas;  I  knew  it  would  suit   him.    I  put  my  hands  in  my  deep  pockets  and  remain  quiet.     If  this  were  two  years  ago  I'd  have  run  up  to  him,  launched   myself  onto  him,  wrapping  my  legs  around  his  waist  and  I'd   be  kissing  him  over  and  over,  short,  loving  kisses  on  his   plump  lips,  until  they  developed  into  long,  sensual  ones  and   he  carried  me  back  upstairs  to  our  bedroom.   "Oh!"    He  looks  up  at  me,  breaking  my  thoughts.     "How  long  have  you  been  up  for?"    He  asks,  looking  back   down  at  the  paper  without  waiting  for  my  response.   "Morning."    I  say,  quickly  jumping  into  a  step,  feeling   stupid.    "Oh,  not  long."  
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mirella castellano

   

"I've  just  brewed  some  coffee." "Mmm,  yes  I  can  smell  it…  divine.”    I  make  my  way  to  

the  cupboard  of  mugs  and  help  myself  to  one.    Una  tazza  di   caffè,  I  think  and  nod  to  myself.    "You  look  great  this   morning.”    I  add,  feeling  a  little  dif6ident  in  my  morning   state.    Why  is  he  so  spruced  up  today?     "I'm  off  to  work.”    He  says  without  acknowledging   "Really?    But  it's  Saturday.”    I  reply,  not  knowing  why   my  compliment  with  so  much  as  a  glance. really,  since  it's  not  the  6irst  time  he's  gone  to  work  on  a   Saturday...  Lately,  it's  been  a  regular  occurrence.     "Yes  it  is."    He  replies  matter-­‐of-­‐factly.    I  back  down   "Do  you  have  a  case  you're  working  on  or   feeling  disheartened. something?"    I  ask,  trying  to  sound  interested  but  not  in  the   least  bit  bothered  or  disappointed  while  I  stir  my  coffee.     "What's  with  all  the  questions,  Rose?"    He  snaps  and   "Sorry,  I  was  just  making  conversation,  trying  to   I  jump  in  shock.   show  some  interest  in  your  work."    I  announce.    "Don't  mind   me.”    My  attempts  only  frustrate  him.    Can  I  do  anything   right?    I  huff  within  and  turn  to  put  the  milk  back  in  the   fridge  as  I  swallow  hard.    Blimey,  who  pissed  in  his  pocket   and  told  him  it  was  raining?   "Ok  well  I'm  off."    He  says,  closing  the  newspaper   and  drinking  the  dregs  of  his  coffee.    "I'm  not  sure  when  I'll   be  back."  
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tiramisú

 

"Ok."  I  say,  trying  to  brush  off  his  awful  mood  as  he  

walks  towards  me  to  deliver  one  of  his  meaningless   goodbyes.         He  leaves.     Just  as  the  door  slams  shut,  the  house  resumes  its  

usual  quiet  state  and  I  am  alone  again,  listening  to  the  clock   ticking  and  my  heart  beating.   After  sometime  milling  around  the  house  doing  

chores  and  talking  to  Eva.  I  realise  the  time  and  wonder   whether  to  start  preparing  food.    6pm  and  no  word  from   Filippo  about  whether  he’ll  be  in  or  out  for  dinner.    I  reach   for  the  phone  to  call  him.    His  voicemail  picks  up.       “Hello,  only  me…  Err,  sorry  to  call,  I  know  you’re  busy,   just  wanted  to  Wind  out  if  you  are  going  to  be  home  for  dinner?     Should  I  start  cooking  or  will  you  be  out?”    I  waf6le  trying  to   be  bright  and  breezy,  undemanding  and  unbothered  by  his   lack  of  communication,  even  though  I  am  a  little  frustrated.     “Ok,  call  me  back  when  you  get  a  sec  and  let  me  know.    Ok.  Ok.   Bye.”      I  place  the  phone  back  down  in  its  cradle  and  breathe   a  sigh  of  disappointment.    Maybe  I’ll  make  some  soup  or   something,  if  he  doesn’t  want  any,  I’ll  freeze  it.    At  least  that   way  I’ll  be  prepared  if  he  is  hungry  when  he  returns.    Be  a   good  wife  Rosella,  be  a  good  wife,  I  tell  myself.    I  return  to  the   kitchen  and  begin  peeling  potatoes  and  hacking  away  at  the   butternut  squash.    I  chop  a  large  onion,  carrots  and  shove  
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mirella castellano

them  all  into  a  large  saucepan,  6ill  it  with  water,  add   seasoning  and  a  chicken  stock  cube.    Once  it  boils,  I  turn  the   gas  low  and  have  it  simmer  for  thirty  minutes  until   everything  is  tender.    The  sweet  smell  of  squash  spreads   throughout  the  kitchen,  the  aroma  6illing  my  senses  and  I  am   comforted  on  this  all  too  familiar  evening  alone.    I  blend  the   well-­‐cooked  vegetables,  add  a  knob  of  butter,  stir  and  cover   the  pan.    With  a  small  bowl  of  soup  in  hand  and  a  warm   crusty  roll  of  bread,  I  make  for  the  sofa  in  the  living  room  to   watch  an  evening  6lick  to  pass  the  time. ****   I  open  one  eye  and  feel  fuzzy.    I  must've  fallen  asleep.    

I  lay  curled  up  on  the  sofa,  snuggled  under  a  blanket  with   the  6ire  crackling.    It's  dark  but  for  the  glow  of  the  blue  TV   screen.    What  time  is  it?    I  wonder  as  I  stretch  my  arms   above  my  head  and  yawn.    I  look  around  and  listen  to  see  if  I   can  hear  Filippo  moving  about  in  the  study.    The  house  is   silent  except  for  the  sound  of  the  wood  burning.    I  drag  my   feet  to  the  kitchen  and  6lick  the  kettle  on  to  make  a  cup  of   tea.    I  spot  the  soup  I’d  made  earlier  sitting  on  the  stove,  lift   the  lid  and  give  it  a  stir.    I  turn  the  small  TV  on  in  the  kitchen   and  watch  as  I  6lick  from  channel  to  channel  to  6ind  nothing   interesting  on.    After  double  taking  at  the  clock  on  the  wall,  I   notice  it’s  9.30pm.    Where  did  the  time  go?    More   importantly,  where  the  hell  is  Filippo?    It's  rather  late  and  
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tiramisú

he's  usually  home  by  now.    I  decide  to  call  Eva. "He  was  boring."    Eva  explains.    She'd  been  out  on  a   date  with  some  guy  she  met  whilst  in  M&S.                 "You  don't  even  know  him,  not  really,  give  him  a   "Seriously,  he  told  me  he  has  a  huge  train  set  at  his   "Wait,  how  old  was  he?" "Exactly."    She  laughs.  "Dull  and  a  mummy's  boy!" "Well,  didn't  he  look  like  a  train  set-­‐slash-­‐mummy's   "No!    Do  you  think  I'd  have  even  entertained  the   chance." mothers  house  -­‐  WHERE  HE  LIVES!"    

boy  kinda  guy  when  you  6irst  met  him?" thought  of  a  date  with  him  if  I'd  had  known  these  crucial   facts?    There  I  was,  drooling  over  the  delectable  looking   Pavlova,  checking  what  the  calorie  intake  would  be  if  I   devoured  it  that  evening  and  there  he  was  ogling  me,  ready   to  ask  me  out…  he  looked  quite  dishy  actually,  certainly  not   the  train-­‐geek  type!"       "There's  nothing  wrong  with  trains,  Eva."    I  try,  but   "Well  it's  just  not  my  thing."    She  says.    "So  where's   "At  work."   "Work?    At  almost  10  o'clock  on  a  Saturday  night?"     She's  right.    "You  guys  should  be  shagging  down  the  house  in   your  new  undies!"    I  don't  even  begin  to  inform  her  of  my  
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she  doesn't  agree. His  Majesty?"

mirella castellano

failed  attempts  the  other  night.    Perhaps  I  should  call  him?    I   think  but  I  know  how  he  hates  that,  he'll  think  I'm  checking   up  on  him  and  get  on  his  high  horse.   "I  was  going  to  call  the  of6ice  but  you  know  what  he's   like  if  I  call  after  him.    I  tried  earlier,  he  didn’t  answer  but  I   left  a  message."   weird.         "What?"    I  probe  her. "Nothing,  nothing."   "It  is  late  isn't  it?    And  if  he's  pissed  off,  then  he's   "What's  the  harm  in  a  call?"    She  says,  trying  to   "Call  him  again!”    She  says  and  her  voice  sounds  

pissed  off." sound  nonchalant  about  the  subject,  but  I  truly  feel  she's  not   saying  what  she  really  wants  to  say.    Does  she  think  the   worst?    Where  could  he  be?    Right,  I  think  I've  suf6iciently   wound  myself  up  enough  to  feel  the  need  to  call  now.    I  put   the  phone  down  from  Eva  and  call  Filippo's  of6ice. I  dial  his  direct  line  gingerly.    It  rings.    And  rings.     And  rings.    Nothing.    No  answer.    Perhaps  he's  in  another   of6ice?    Perhaps  he's  gone  out  to  get  something  to  eat?    I'll   call  his  mobile.    Then  I  call  it  again.    Nothing.    Where  could   he  be?    Sel6ish  bastard.    Here  I  am,  at  home  waiting  on  his   return,  while  he  just  stays  late  at  work  without  so  much  as  a   phone  call.    I  pace  the  room  and  chew  my  nails,  my  heart   pounding  hard  against  my  chest,  the  familiar  lump  returns  
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tiramisú

to  my  throat.    Victoria,  his  secretary  pops  into  my  mind.    No.     No.    He  wouldn't  dare.    Maybe  he's  injured  somewhere?    No,   no,  Rosella,  you're  being  silly.    He's  6ine.    He's  just  a  sel6ish   pig,  working  –  yes,  he’s  a  working  sel6ish  pig  is  what  he  is!     He  hasn't  thought  for  a  second  about  me  and  that  I  might  be   worried.    I  take  the  stairs  up  to  our  room  and  decide  to   prepare  for  bed.    I  will  perform  my  usual  nightly  routine,  as   normal.    I  take  my  towel  into  the  bathroom  and  run  the  bath,   pour  in  some  lavender  bubble  bath  by  the  gushing  taps  and   turn  to  route  for  my  Oil  of  Olay  face  wipes  to  remove  my   make  up.    I  push  my  head  through  a  stretchy  headband  and   try  to  pretend  nothing  is  on  my  mind,  but  I  can't.    How  do   other  people  do  it?    Put  things  to  the  "back  of  their  minds”  –   what  does  that  even  mean?    I  can’t.    I  just  can’t.    Perhaps  he's   been  run  over  or  something  terrible  has  happened?    Why   isn't  he  answering  his  phone?    I  will  have  my  bath  and  try  to   call  again.    I  don't  want  to  seem  like  a  crazy  wife.    Once  I've   6inished  riding  my  face  of  make  up,  I  remove  my  clothes  and   sink  into  the  hot  bubbly  water.   For  a  moment  my  thoughts  are  empty,  forgetting   that  I  am  still  home  alone  and  a  further  hour  has  passed.    I   move  gently  with  the  motion  of  the  water  like  a  boat   bobbing  in  a  calm  sea.    As  my  body  becomes  relaxed,  I  feel  I   might  fall  asleep.    My  eyes  grow  heavy...   "Candy's  newest  cosmetic  range  is  based  on  the  

colours  and  6lavours  of  mouth  watering  fruits  from  around  
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mirella castellano

the  world,  this  range  is  packed  with  exotically  named   products  to  entice  our  customers  into  purchasing  our   exquisite  cosmetics  and  beauty  regimes.    Introducing..."  I   pause  for  effect,  "our  Tropical  range."    Everybody  claps  as   slides  of  Candy’s  best  selling  items  from  the  new  range  6lash   up  onto  the  screen.    Beautiful  colours,  eye  catching  and   provoking.  "Here  is  our  best  selling  lip  balm,  Berry  Mango   Twist."    Up  pops  an  image  of  a  swirl  of  deep  red  and  pale   orange  in  sophisticated  packaging.    "Please  open  the  gift   pouches  in  front  of  you."    Before  each  of  them  sits  an   expensive  looking  white  cosmetic  pouch,  its  quilted  fabric   piped  with  lime  green  trim  and  two  fabric  cherries  hang   from  its  handle.    The  zippers  are  unzipped  and  products  are   removed  and  placed  on  the  table,  then  examined  by  each   person  sitting  around  it.    "You  will  6ind  this  luscious,  glossy   lip  balm  there,  please  remove  its  cap  and  feel  free  to  smell   its  deliciousness,  you  won't  believe  how  close  to  the  real   fruits  it  smells  and  how  it  invigorates  your  taste  buds."     People  look  back  at  me  wide-­‐eyed  and  hypnotised  by  the   products.    "You  will  6ind  that  they  are  truly  delectable  and   almost  good  enough  to  eat."    I  throw  a  chuckle.    I  know  I've   got  them;  it's  totally  in  the  bag.    They  are  completely  sold  on   this  range.    Com-­‐pletely!    "Ok,  so  let's  talk  6igures."    I  say  as  I   clap  my  hands  together  and  rub  my  palms  against  one   another  in  a  let's-­‐get-­‐to-­‐business  manner.    I  click  another   slide.    The  new  prospective  client's  eyes  bulge  when  they   realise  how  Candy  can  potentially  change  the  income  of  
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tiramisú

their  businesses.    I've  6inally  arrived  at  the  end  of  my   presentation,  "any  questions?"    Hands  go  up.   "I'd  like  to  thank  you  all  for  attending  this  

presentation,  Candy  will  do  whatever  it  takes  to  provide  the   best  service  possible  to  our  clients,  we  hope  to  have  you  on   board."    They  shake  my  hand  and  leave  the  room  and  once   they've  all  gone,  I  pack  my  gear  away,  smiling  to  myself.     Secretly  knowing  in  my  heart,  that  Candy  has  this  contract,   it's  a  done  deal,  a  job  well  done.    With  that  in  my  pocket,  I   make  my  way  to  the  bar  for  a  much-­‐needed  drink  and  to   6lick  through  my  next  scheduled  appointments.    I  walk   through  the  hotel  lobby,  pass  the  lounging  area  adorned   with  different  colour  leather  sofas,  purple,  green  and  pink   and  pillars  of  elaborate  6lower  displays  in  between  each   sofa,  sectioning  off  the  area  with  what  looks  like  it's  own   private  bar.    While  it's  open-­‐plan,  it  looks  like  some  sort  of   VIP  area.    I  make  my  way  over  to  The  Green  Room.    It  has  its   lights  dimmed  and  tall  leather  stools  surrounding  the   sophisticated  bar.    Music  plays  softly  and  I  order  an  olive   Martini  after  a  hard  day's  work.    I  unbutton  my  6itted,  navy   suit  jacket  and  I  pull  out  one  of  the  stools,  dumping  my  bag   beside  me.    My  Martini  arrives,  I  take  a  sip  and  notice  the   man  at  the  other  end  of  the  bar  watching  me.    He's   handsome,  in  a  suit,  dark  hair,  dark  seductive  eyes,  strong   jaw  line  and  full  lips.    In  fact,  he’s  about  as  delicious  as  this   drink.    I  pull  the  pick  out  of  my  glass,  bite  the  olive  off  it  and  
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mirella castellano

chew  while  I  reach  for  my  Filofax.    The  man  hasn't  taken  his   eyes  off  me  since  I  sat  down.    I  almost  choke  when  I  notice   him  coming  over…  act  normal,  act  casual,  like  you  haven't   noticed,  I  tell  myself.    He  arrives  next  to  me  and  leans  his   forearms  on  the  stool's  back. "Long  day."    I  nod  and  smile  up  at  him,  rolling  my   eyes  casually.    God  he's  lush. "Can  I  buy  you  a  drink?"    His  voice  is  deep  and   masculine,  smooth.    He  smells  amazing.   "Um."    I  hesitate,  not  wanting  to  seem  too  easy;  a   little  chase  makes  a  man  more  curious  I'm  told.    "Sure,  that   would  be  nice."         "I'm  Filippo."    He  puts  his  hand  out  to  shake  mine.     "Filippo,  sei  Italiano?"    I  ask,  sure  that  he  is,  I  can  tell   "You  got  me!"    He  laughs  with  both  hands  up  and   "I'm  Rosella,”  I  reply  "Rosella  Rossi."    I  shake  his   He's  Italian? by  they  way  he  says  his  name.   then  he  breaks  my  cool  exterior  with  his  smile. hand  and  feel  how  warm  and  strong  it  is.    Safe  hands.           This  man  is  completely  out  of  this  world!    He's  funny.    

He's  handsome.    He's  sexy.    He's  SINGLE!    He  can’t  be  real!     Am  I  being  set  up?    I  think  as  he  invites  me  to  join  him  for   dinner  in  the  hotel's  restaurant.    I  accept.    How  could  I  not?     With  eyes  like  that  and  a  smile  to  melt  a  thousand  hearts,   how  could  I  not?    I  don't  think  I've  ever  felt  so  attracted  to  
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someone  so  instantly.    I  want  to  text  Eva  and  tell  her  about   this  gorgeous  guy  before  me,  but  I  fear  that  if  I  escape  to  the   bathroom,  even  only  for  a  few  seconds,  some  woman  will   swipe  him  from  under  me.    Then  again,  it  would  give  him  a   chance  to  check  out  my  butt  as  I  walk  away,  since  I've  been   sitting  on  it  for  the  last  hour…  I  hope  it’s  not  square  now. I decide to risk it. "Would  you  excuse  me  for  a   moment?”    I  get  up  to  leave  for  the  bathroom  and  to  perform   my  killer  walk,  even  though  my  feet  are  paining  me  so  badly   in  the  four-­‐inch  heels  I’ve  had  on  for  eight  hours.    I'm  certain   that  I  won't  actually  be  able  to  take  them  off  without  soaking   my  feet  -­‐  still  in  shoes  -­‐  in  iced  water  6irst.    They  should   carry  a  warning  label  on  shoes  like  these.    WARNING:  These   shoes  may  cause  swelling.    Chances  of  having  to  cut  your  feet   off  to  remove  them  are  high.    Wear  at  your  own  risk.       "Of  course.”    He  stands  as  I  do,  such  a  gentleman.    We   stare  into  each  other’s  eyes  for  longer  than  necessary,   mesmerised.    Filippo.    I  say  to  myself.    Filippo  Giordano…  I   feel  myself  drool  a  little  from  the  side  of  my  mouth.    Must.   Compose.  Myself.    He  reaches  forward  and  gently  moves  a   strand  of  my  hair  from  my  face,  his  6inger  brushes  across  my   cheek  and  my  breathing  becomes  shallow  and  rapid.    Fili....       Suddenly  I  wake  up  with  a  jolt  and  realise  I'm  in  the  

bathtub,  cold  with  wrinkly  6ingertips.    My  heart  sinks  to  my   feet  when  I  work  out  that  Filippo  is  still  not  home.    The   silence  besieges  me.    It  must  be  midnight  by  now.    My  heart  
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beats  hard,  I  leave  the  bathroom  and  rush  for  the  phone   again.    Something  isn't  right.    I  feel  it  in  my  gut;  I  feel  that   something  isn't  right.

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4. A Missing Person
I lay still in bed for what feels like hours, my head under the duvet. My whole body encapsulated, breath filling the space around me. It's so stuffy under here, I think to myself as the tip of my nose brushes the quit cover. I'm clutching the phone in my palm; I've tried fifteen times since the last time. No answer on his mobile or the office phone. Perhaps he had a great meeting and went for a drink with his colleagues, I mean, what else would explain why he hasn't returned yet? Should I call Jeffrey Gold? I know it's late but perhaps he's with him? "Hello?" A tired, quiet voice answers. "Jeffrey? I'm so sorry to call so late, it's Rosella... Rose… Philip's wife." My eyes spot the red digits on the clock: 2am. "Rose, are you ok?" I hear him sit up in bed. "Yes, yes I'm fine... well, I'm not really." I give in the pretence. "Have you seen Philip today? It's just, he's not returned from work and I've tried calling his mobile and the office." I pause for a reply. "Well I saw him earlier, we were both in the office and decided to go and grab a drink since we'd had some good news on a client." He sounds genuine. "But after that, I left and he
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returned to the office." He sounds a little confused too. "Ok, thanks Jeffrey, I'll try to call him again, I'm just getting a little worried." Oh gosh, Philip is going to kill me when he finds out I called Jeffery. (Did I just call him Philip?) I hang up the phone and try him one more time. If Jeffrey said that he saw him return to the office then where could he be? In a sudden burst of energy, I jump out of bed and grab anything I can find to throw on. I don't care if it doesn't match, I think as I spot the odd socks in the mirror as I bolt past it. I have to go and check the office, what if something's happened? What if he's there alone and something dreadful has happened? Like he’s smacked his head on a filing cabinet draw and knocked himself out. Oh, I feel myself panic.

I jump in the car, reverse and roar down the street. The clock on my dashboard reads 2:14am. My eyes are sore and tired as I squint to see where I'm going. I notice tiny dots of water hitting the windscreen - it's starting to rain. Could my night get any worse? I hate driving in the rain. Suddenly the heavens open and raindrops begin to slap so hard against my windscreen that I fear it will break. It's like a bloody monsoon out here. I switch my wipers on full blast and for a moment I am hypnotised by the whooshing sound and the to-ing and froing, quickly from left to right. I shake myself out of it and take the roads gingerly, finding most of the way clear due to the early hour. Please be there, please have fallen asleep on your
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desk, please let there be a light on, if there’s light on then I will know that he is there and safe. I will run in and tell him that I am sorry for everything I have ever done wrong, for every unwarranted argument, for every disappointment I've been to him. That I'll try, I'll try harder to please him, that I still love him, that I want us to work on our marriage, on improving it, on seeing more of each other. I will change, I will make more of an effort, be more attentive... Heavens, I'll even wear the sexy thongs I always avoid in my underwear draw! We can make this work, I know it. Maybe my flashback made me realise all this, perhaps the fact that something could potentially be wrong… but maybe I'm panicking for nothing? In fact, I'm sure I am, there must be some sort of simple explanation. I turn the corner and head down the street the office is situated, splashing through the puddles and praying out loud along the way. I near the building and pull up beside the pavement.

My eyeballs feel as though they might fall out of their sockets, they are dry and feel bulgy as I try to swallow hard. The pressure around my sinuses builds as the first tears push and fight their way through my tear ducts, desperate to be freed. The space between my eyebrows throbs as I furrow my brow. My face burns with fear, my head spins over a thousand things, my heart beats frantically, I'm in panic mode and I don't know what to do. The office is in darkness. No one is there.
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Tears pour down my face like the rain on the windscreen. The office is empty. Every single light is off, probably every door shut, more than likely every voicemail activated. And of course they would be, it's almost 3am. Of course there would be no one there. What was I thinking? But Filippo... where could he be? I feel my body physically begin to shake, my palms sweat and all I can do is cry, cry harder than I've ever cried before. I must return home, there is nothing left for me to do but wait. Maybe I'll open my eyes in the morning and there he'll be, beside me, alive and well and I'll have worried for nothing. I swear, things will be different from now on. I turn the car around and journey back towards the house, unable to stop the tears from coming, no matter how hard I try.

A while after, I arrive home and push my key in the door. A small part of me hoped that I would arrive back at the house and his car would be in the pebbled driveway, but it was empty when I pulled into it. The stones sounded like they are talking amongst themselves as the tyres rolled over them, forcing them to clank and grind together. I step into the warm house and pull off my jacket at the same time as I peel my feet out of my trainers without untying them, revealing the mismatched socks. I climb the stairs, undress and clamber into my pyjamas then get into bed and pull the duvet over me. I'm exhausted but the worry keeps my mind shuffling through
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possible reasons and excuses. Finally my eyes become so heavy that not even a blaring fire alarm would stop them from closing.

****

Curled up in a ball, I see the time. 11:00am. I can't remember the last time I slept in this late... think it was when I was a hung over teenager! I open one eye, then the other. His side of the bed remains untouched. Not even a crease in the duvet. My head hurts, I must have slept with a frown the whole night. I sit up and my heart feels so heavy that I could collapse. All I want to do is lay back down again and stay here all day. He didn't come home last night. Without a second thought, I jump up and run out of the bedroom and down the stairs, thinking that perhaps he arrived so late that he slept on the sofa so as not to wake me. With a glimmer of hope and half a smile on my face, believing for a split second I could be right, I rush to the living room. The sofa is unoccupied and the house empty, except for me. Now I'm beginning to feel angry, not sad anymore, or hurt, but angry. What a selfish bastard. Wait till I see him, no holding back this time, he'll get a right mouthful from me. I switch the kettle on aggressively as if it must have had some part in all of this. Folding my arms across my body, I wait. Wait for the kettle to
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finish boiling, for him to walk in the door with some sorry excuse, for answers, for relief. I wait and wait. The kettle pings off, breaking my train of thought and I pour the water into my mug and grip it tightly as I sip. Eva… she'll know what to do, I must call her.

"Hi Sweetie." She answers sounding bright and breezy. "Hi." I reply blandly. "What's up with you? Get up on the wrong side of the bed?" She spits. "Yeah, you could say that." I pause, my voice wavering. "Filippo didn't come home last night." She's quiet and I feel my eyes flood. I try hard to hold back my frustration but I can't. "Arsehole!" I snap. "Not even a phone call." I sniff. "Who the hell does that? Has he forgotten that he has a wife sitting at home waiting for him?" "Honey, are you ok?" Her voice is concerned. "Perhaps he stayed at work?" "No he didn't - I was there at 3:00am and there was no sign of life in the building." "You what? You went to his office on your own? In the early hours of the morning?" "What choice did I have, Ev? I had to see if he was alright. I was mad, worried, frustrated... I didn't know what else
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to do." "You should've called me, at least I'd have come with you." She tries. "So what did he say when you saw him, what was his excuse? "Eva, that's just it, I haven't seen him. He still hasn't been home!" The phone is quiet and I can no longer suppress my pain, I burst into tears. "I'll be right over." She puts the phone down. We both pace the room like crazy people. "I need to do something." I say, as Eva chews on her well-manicured nails. It's been more than twenty-four hours since I saw him last. Surely that is considered a missing person? I should call the Police. I should phone the hospitals. I should call my family. I have to do something. He's gone - disappeared. "Do you think if we wait a little longer he might show up?" She asks with concern all over her face. "I don't think so... I just have this feeling, he's not coming home." I fall on the floor in a pile and Eva runs over to wrap her arms around me. She rocks me until my tears subside. Eventually they do. I call home and speak to Mamma and Papá to tell them what's happened and they gasp with worry. Filippo's parents passed away, first his father three years ago - a heart attack - and then a year later his mother... I believe she died of a broken heart. He was an only child so he has no remaining family, not in England anyway, he has a distant
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cousin in the south of Italy but I'll worry about him later.

Most of the day is spent pacing, phoning people that might know if his whereabouts, some of his work colleagues. I try the office again just incase he answers. Nothing. No one else is there, it's a Sunday, who would be? I call local hospitals to see if anyone by his name has been admitted. The nice nurse informs me that no one by the name of Filippo or Philip Giordano is there or has been there. He has just vanished. Gone. If he walks in later tonight as though nothing has happened I shall throttle him, twice over. I'm so mad I'm beside myself and for once in her life, I believe Eva is lost for words. Where the hell could he have gotten to? My mind finally forms one conclusion - aliens have abducted him… What? Perhaps it is a tad radical but what other explanation could there be? People just don't disappear, never to be found again. Not without some sort of trace. Right? "I think there is only one thing for it." I turn to Eva who is still chewing her nails as though she's hungry. She looks back at me, waiting to hear my big idea. "I have to call the Police." And the moment it spills from my mouth, that's the moment it hits me again. I crumble, my legs giving way beneath me. He's missing, he's missing and I can't find him. No one knows where he is. But he can't be, he can't be missing. I need him... I love him. I didn't realise how much, but I do. I don't want to go through life without him.
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"Ok." Eva says, taking charge and handing me the phone after mopping away my tears. "You're right." She says. "We have to call." "But I don't know if I can do this, saying it out loud makes it more true." I blubber. "You can. But first, let's knock back a shot or two for Dutch courage." She makes her way to the bar in the living room. "Or two?" I reply, "I won't even be able to talk if I knock back two!" I stop myself, remembering this is no time for laughter. Eva lines up shot glasses beside one another and reaches for the Sambuca, where the hell she found that I don't know, must have been tucked away somewhere because I know Filippo doesn't drink such drinks, he's a whisky on the rocks type of man. Eva pours the liquid into the glasses until it is almost spilling from the sides. "Ready?" She nods at me. "Go." We both glug the drink down in one fell swoop. It burns my throat as it goes down, I feel like I could breathe fire. I shake my head and squeeze my eyes shut tightly while it hits spots I'd forgotten existed. "I need to call the Police, I have to report Filippo missing." While I dial, Eva downs another and her eyes begin to look glassy when she downs her third.
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"Hello, hello?" I say down the phone to the man on the other end. I called the 'missing persons' line given to me by the receptionist at the local station. "Yes Madam, can I help you?" The man's voice responds on the other end. "Yes... my husband is missing." I say, my voice shaky. I can hardly believe I'm doing this. "Right. Can I take your name please?" "Mrs. Rosella Giordano." "Ok, Mrs. Giordano, I'm Sergeant John Lingham, I'll need to ascertain some information from you before we continue, is that ok?" "Of course." I bite my nails. "The name of your husband and his age, height, weight and eye colour please?" "Filippo  Antonio  Giordano, he is also known as Philip and he is thirty-six years old, 5 foot 11 inches and weighs around twelve and a half stone. Brown eyes." "Is he in good health?" "Yes." My heart beats rapidly, I can't believe this is happening. I breathe deeply. I pace. "Would you consider him to be any danger to anyone?"
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"Danger? What do you mean Officer?" What is he asking? "I just need to know if he has any mental illnesses, if he is a risk to himself or anyone else?" "No, he is no risk whatsoever." I reply, flabbergasted by the question. This all seems a little regimented. I feel silly as he continues to question me, as though he doesn't believe me or the gravity of the situation. "Ok. Can you tell me about the last time you saw your husband Mrs Giordano?" His voice is monotone. "Well it was Saturday morning, he was going to work." "Saturday morning." He repeats like he's writing it down. "Work. Have any of his possessions been removed from the property?" "What? Err." I crumple my face at the phone. "He left for work that morning with his briefcase." "So all of his belongings are still there, where you both reside?" He asks and I feel a tad put out by his questioning. What does he think has happened? "Do you get these kinds of phone calls all the time Officer?" My voice is cold. "Why do you ask?" "Well because you seem to know your line of questioning."
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"I've been doing this job for a long time, there are specific questions we have to ask so we are able to rule out certain things before we file him as missing and send out a search party, it's just protocol." "Right." My mind’s thinking overtime. What does he mean though? What is he saying? My husband has disappeared, what does he want from me? Wait, I haven't checked that all of his things are still here. I rush up the stairs to our bedroom. "Um, err. It looks like everything is here." I say as I riffle though the wardrobe and his draws, even though I'm not entirely sure everything is here. "Are all your funds in order Mrs Giordano?" He pauses waiting for me to reply. "I haven't checked." I say feeling disgruntled and pathetic at the same time. "Do you remember some of his last words to you?" My mind races. "He said..." my voice trails off. "He said he didn't know when he'd be back." I look at the floor feeling like the conversation didn't sound promising. "Did you have an argument? Would you say you have a good relationship?" I feel myself swallow hard. Well, do I? "Well, it wasn't exactly an argument Officer, he did bite my head off when I asked him about what he would be doing at the office on that day."
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"Hmmm." He replies, sounding thoughtful and I perch on the edge of my bed. He doesn't sound too worried about the situation. "I guess our relationship hasn't been the best it could be... we've lost sight of one another but... but..." I stutter, "it's just a phase, all marriages go through these phases." I try hard to convince him. "Mrs Giordano, I need you to do some things for me." I listen intently. "Check the house thoroughly to make sure nothing of his has left the property and I'd like you to ensure all your bank accounts and monies are in order. Then, once you have done that, please call me back with this information and we will take it from there." There is nothing much he can ask of me at this stage, he said it had been less that forty-eight hours and that I should try to rule out other possibilities in the meantime. I put the phone down and pad downstairs to Eva.

As I enter the living room, Eva is curled up beside the large plant pot and is asleep with the white of one eye showing. I lost count of how many shots she’d had; God knows how many more she downed when I was upstairs. The Officer's words grate on me while I stand silently staring into the middle distance. He said I needed to be certain of the circumstances before he could proceed with a full blown investigation, that because Filippo is an adult, we had to consider the possibility that he may well have left of his own accord. Left? of his own
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accord? But why? I know things haven’t been great, but bad enough to walk out on me? Without a word? No. No. I walk over to the bar and pour myself another Sambuca, glug it down and pour another. It numbs the pain a little, the rejection. No. I can't believe it, I won't. Surely I mean more to him than that? Surely the last seven years together has meant something to him? My heart aches, my body feels weak. I can't, I won't believe it.

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5. Snoopy The Snoop
A week later, I take the corner and pull into the space across the street from the Police Station. I walk a short while to the corner and stand at the foot of the steps… here goes. "Hello, I'm here to see Sergeant John Lingham." I report to the woman behind the desk in a white shirt with the sides of her hair pinned back. Her frizzy perm brings back memories of the 1980's - she's clearly stuck in a time warp… I puzzle over an image in my mind of her in fluorescent pink plastic hoops, bangles half way up her arm and lace gloves like Madonna used to wear. She makes a phone call and asks me to take a seat. I do with trepidation. I read the posters decorating the walls and pick my nails in anxiety. My chest could collapse any moment, my lungs feel as though they are struggling to fill with air, as though they are restricted somehow. I breathe; breathe deeply as the phone continues to ring in the background of my thoughts. Wow, so many people in dire need of Police. I suppose since this is my first encounter with them, I never really thought about how busy they must be with people calling about all sorts. My mind ponders on what Sergeant Lingham will say
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when I give him the information I'm about to give him. I try to swallow the lump in my throat but to no avail, my heart sinks again as I remember it myself. It's taken me a week to pluck up the courage to come here for fear of what I have to tell him will imply. I feel sick and as though someone has kicked me in my stomach. "Mrs. Giordano?" "Yes." I jump in my seat, then stand before the strong looking man. He looks just as I would imagine a Policeman would look. Tall, protective looking, stern although with warm, chocolate eyes. His mouth a little crooked when he speaks but he appears to be a very trustworthy looking man, something about those eyes. "Hello." He shakes my hand. "Would you like to follow me?" "Yes, of course." I tuck my handbag under my arm and feel a little self-conscious. It's the first time I've really been out since Filippo... "Take a seat." He leads me to a room, a small room with a desk in it. I sit across from him and he flicks through pieces of paper. "Ok, so how can I help you?" "Well," I pause, "after our last conversation, when you asked me about whether anything had gone missing and I said no..." "Yes." He nods.
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"It appears that I wasn't entirely honest at the time, well..." my voice trails as I move around in my chair, shuffling like a five year old. He looks on, agog. "I wasn't entirely sure either but... after taking a more in depth look, I noticed his gym bag missing." I look down at the desk tidy for no apparent reason. "Right." He leans back in his chair. "And clothes?" "I'm not sure." "And does he frequent the gym?" "He does, sometimes, but to be honest, recently he's been too busy to go." I rub my head as the realization of this not sounding too promising hits me, I can tell by Sergeant Lingham's face that he has no intention of taking this any further. "I'm sorry for your circumstances and wish there was something I could do to help, but you must understand how this looks from our perspective." "But doesn't it seem suspicious to you?" "Well... not really if I'm being honest." He replies and my heart sinks to my feet. "So you're saying that there is nothing you can do?" My eyes fill. "I'm afraid so, Mrs. Giordano." He looks back at me apologetically.
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"But, he could've taken it to go to the gym that afternoon and could've been jumped… mugged even, on his way." "But you said he was going to work. Did he have the bag with him then?" "No. I don't remember seeing it; it could've been by the door. I was in the kitchen when he left." I must sound stupid, so desperate… so pathetic. "But, he could be anywhere, he could be dead!" I burst into tears. "How can you just do nothing?" I blubber and he quickly reaches for the box of tissues by his side. "I understand your pain, really I do, but..." "DO YOU?" I raise my voice unintentionally out of despair. It silences him. "I'm sorry, there is nothing I can do for you. I assure you, we will notify you if his name appears on our files for some reason or another." "What's that supposed to mean?" I blow my nose. "It means, if he has been in an accident of some sort and..." "An accident? Oh God no." I snivel into a handful of tissues, my eyes tightly shut as my body begins to convulse. He looks at me with sympathetic eyes but his lips remain pressed firmly together.

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I stand to leave. Something inside me knew this is what he would say when I told him about the bag… I regret telling him now, but I thought that maybe it would help, maybe it would give him some clues as to where to look… the first place to go questioning. I don't believe it. I don't believe Filippo is the type of man to just walk away from something, someone… me. To just leave and never been seen or heard of again? What about his job? What about his life? This isn't adding up. I rush out into the drizzle and reach my car. This autumn is proving to be quite a drag and one, it appears, I will never forget. The door slams shut and I lean my head back on the headrest, I wipe my wet face with my sleeve. I have to take this into my own hands; I have to find out what’s happened... There is only one other place I can think of that could have some clue as to what might have happened. Prime & Brimley. The huge double doors weigh a ton as I pull one open to walk in. The receptionist is standing behind her desk on a call. She mutters something and then quickly slams the phone down.
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"Hello, welcome to Prime & Brimley, how may I help you?" She reels her programmed speech off to me and I smile falsely. She has no idea who I am. That is clearly how little Filippo must have talked about me. I bet the CEO of the company doesn't even have a picture of me on his desk. How can a Chief Executive Officer of a large Insurance company be M.I.A. and no one even flinches? Surely someone knows something? Some measures have to have been taken to find out his whereabouts? "I'm here to see Jeffrey Gold." I say confidently. "Do you have an appointment?" "No, I don't." "Oh, Mr. Gold is very busy." She looks at her computer screen and is clicking her mouse. "I'm sure he is, can you please tell him I'm here?" "Well, I'll try but I doubt he'll see you." She continues to click. I feel the urge to glance over her screen to see what she's doing and suddenly without hesitating, I do she's playing bloody Solitaire! "Oi, nosey!" She says and I feel my blood boil. I know I don't come here very often but the least she could do is show some respect, I could be a very important client for all she knows. "Who's a nosey parker then?" She looks irritated by my actions and then blows a lime green bubblegum-bubble from between her pink lips.
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"Listen, I'll have you know..." "Rose?" I am interrupted by my name being called behind me. It's Jeffery Gold. "Jeffery." I reply, grateful that he is there. "I need to talk to you. Is it possible you can spare a few moments for me?" "Of course." He looks over at the receptionist who has suddenly stopped chewing and is on her best behaviour. "Penny, this is Philip Giordano's wife." He says with an important tone. Her eyes bulge. "Can we have some coffee in my office please." His eyes widen at her. "No problem. Sorry I had no idea you were Phil's wife." I nod at her as she stands to attention, smoothing out her blouse. I accept her apology and decide to put it behind me with more pressing things to worry about. As I walk away one thing grates me like nails to a chalkboard - she called him Phil. Ugh. "Take a seat Rose. How are you?" We enter into his office, a large desk at one end, two tall-backed leather chairs on either side of it, his on wheels. I drag mine out and sit. "I'm sorry to bother you by just showing up like this but..." The door opens. "Here's your coffee." Stacey enters with a tray of coffee and posh biscuits. The good kind, made of fancy shortbread dipped in dark luscious chocolate. The ones you
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only pull out for special guests. She leaves and closes the door behind her. "Have you seen or heard from Philip?" "I'm afraid not. I was hoping you had come to tell me some news on his whereabouts. Unfortunately, it's the talk of the office and we are really feeling his loss." My heart sinks. "We've been trying to tie up loose ends and sort through his work load... it's a working progress." "But... how could this have happened?" He takes his coffee cup and places it in front of him on the coaster "Were there no clues? Did you notice him under any extra stress? Was he acting out of character?" I dart my questions out like he should know all the answers. "No, not that I can remember." He replies, seeming under attack. "But how couldn't you? He spent so much time here, he spent ALL his time here!" My face turns crimson and I want to burst with pain. "Did you notice anything Rose?" I cower back into my chair as the words come floating out of his mouth like poison… did I? "No." My voice is faint. “He was his usual miserable self.” I add dejectedly. "We have to do something. I've come straight here from the Police Station. They say there is nothing they can do!"
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"You've reported him missing?" He sounds surprised. "Yes, of course I have." I curl my lip in shock. "Why wouldn't I?" He shrugs and I don't know what that means. "Have you asked all of the staff when they saw him last? We need to get some answers Jeffery." My voice rises as I begin to feel a panic come over me again; the feeling of desperation besieges me. Answers - I need answers, someone must know something. "We had a staff meeting when we realised he..." He pushes his fingers through his hair. "After our phone call that night I kept trying to call him but there was no answer on his phone at first and then the automated message told me the number I had called was unavailable." He breathes heavily. "No one had seen or heard from him." "Are you sure?" I probe "He’s gone, Rose. What else can I do?" "Oh, I don't know. Can I see his office?" I ask. A part of me wants to see his workspace, the last place he was... I wonder if I'll still be able to smell his aftershave. The other part hopes that there will be some clue as to where he could be, what happened. "Err, sure." He looks hesitant. "Thanks." I push my chair back and stand to leave. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"
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"I have to know Jeffrey... I just want to feel his presence… see if it gives me any clues.” He looks at me like I’m mad. With that I leave the office and make my way to Filippo's down the hall. I open the door and look in, his desk laden with papers in neat piles. It's been such a long time since I've been here, the whole office has been moved around, new decor and the chairs are new too, as is the glass round table in the corner with magazines placed on top. I step in, close the door behind me and feel a sudden pang of regret for everything that I took for granted. He was here; this is where he was last. I walk over to his chair, pull it out and sit down slowly. I rub my hands over the arms and squeeze them beneath my fingertips. He was here. I close my eyes and imagine his arms around me, holding me tight. I open them again and they fill with tears. Eventually I find the strength to sift through the papers on the desk in front of me… notes to himself, reminders, figures, telephone messages. I read some of them. Dinner at 8pm - Le Petit. Call Mr. Johnson re: claim. Speak to Jeff - Bartolini case, URGENT. Call Anne. Prepare notes for meeting on 22nd.
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Nothing really makes any sense to me. Nothing stands out, but to see his hand writing again chokes me. I must have touched the mouse because the computer screen lights making me jump. There is a box in the centre of the screen. Enter Your Password. I think for a moment, should I try? Could be my name? Maybe his school name or maybe the password is 'password'? I ruffle through possibilities. Things people usually consider good and private enough to have as a password. If I can get into his computer, I can look at his calendar, maybe it will help. Maybe it will give me the answers I need, give me a reason to return to the Police Station and ask them to put a search party together. There could be proof in there. I remain silent for a moment, listening to make sure no one is outside the door. ROSE. I type and press enter. Wrong. ST. PETERS. Nothing. PASSWORD. Nope. Suddenly the door flies open and Adam Brentwood is standing in the doorway. "Oh God, you scared the life out of me!" I jump back in the chair. "Hello Rose." He smiles with a wicked glint in his eye. "Hello Adam." I reply. He smiles creepily with his
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lips pursed together. "Sorry to hear about Phil, you must be devastated? We're all distraught here at P&B. Jeff told me you were in here." He puts his hands in his pockets and leans against the frame. I haven't seen Adam for years, he wasn't at the barbecue the other week. "I just wanted to ask if there was anything I can do for you?" "No, I'm fine thank you Adam." Cheeky sod, he doesn't want to help at all. Filippo invited him to the house a few times with the Directors a long while ago, always got the feeling he had taken a disliking to me, always rambunctious and full of self importance. I put Filippo's rapid change of character down to Adam's pompousness. "Well I'm just in my office if you change your mind." He's about to walk away but then turns towards me again. "Computer's been wiped by the way." "What?" I try to act innocent. Shit! I wasn't snooping, I wasn't snooping, I say to myself so I believe it. "Oh, just letting you know the computer's been reformatted, we took the liberty of removing all his client details and have now cleared the hard drive - in fact, I'll be moving in here." He looks around the room smiling smugly. Arsehole! "Yes, my office is rather pokey." He shrugs and walks off leaving the door open. Funny that, Filippo disappears and you get a promotion with a nice new office. I
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don't trust him and in fact have every intention of finding out if he had something to do with this. I don't know how, but I will. Something tells me I'm not very welcome here. I get up to leave, pick up my handbag and say goodbye to Jeffery, then return home to my safe haven where I can get back into my Snoopy pyjamas and never leave the house again.

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6. Don’t Bank On It!
It is dark out. The house is quiet. I hate the sound of my own heart beating, a pulsating thump in my eardrums. I hate it because I always think, what if it just stops while I'm listening to it? The TV is on mute. I can't bear to listen to what they're talking about. I hate reality TV. They have no comprehension of reality; it’s all set up. They moan and grown about breaking a blimin’ nail! I flick the channel angrily. I know, I make no excuses - I hate a lot of things right now. The only way I can cope with what's happened is to lock myself away from everyone and everything. It's been weeks since my visit to the station and to Pride & Brimley. I’ve heard nothing. After that day, I hit rock bottom... I've been trying to accept life on my own, trying to figure out how I'm supposed to feel about all of this. How I'm supposed to cope. Mamma and Papá have called so many times, left voicemails for me begging me to answer, but I can't bring myself to and if I called back I’d only have nothing to say, so I don’t bother. Eva has been round, knocking on my door - then bashing down my door - and I've pretended to be asleep, or in the bath... I just can’t face the world yet. Should I be feeling this vacant? Numb? I do nothing but cry. Food has barely passed my lips, a little pick
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here, a little pick there. All I seem to do is think. Think in silence… Flashbacks of the past fill my mind. Filippo and our lives together… what could have happened to him? I’m lost, empty and the memories are burying me alive. The same questions plague me - why would he just leave like that? Leave me here alone, after all that we've been through together. Where would he go? Did he hate me that much? No. No. Something must have happened. Policemen get it wrong sometimes, Doctors even get it wrong sometimes... this must be one of those times. Someone could have murdered him and they don't even care. He could be in a gutter somewhere or lying in a ditch. It's been almost two weeks since I saw him last. A lump forms in my throat again, the same one that has appeared periodically since that night outside his office in the pouring rain. My body begins to shake uncontrollably, a feeling of fear engulfs me and my lungs feel as though they are collapsing, vomit rising. I've vomited so many times my throat is raw. I breathe deep breaths, in through my nose, out through my mouth and slowly the feeling subsides.

My eyes feel dry and heavy; I'm tired because I've hardly slept. Sleeping pills are slowly but surely becoming more and more inviting. My teeth feel furry, my hair knotty,
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I must stink to high heaven but I don't care. I've been living off toast and the mushroom cup-a-soups that have been in the back of the cupboard for months - forgot they were even there. Eva and Mamma have brought over dishes of cooked food for me and have had to leave it on my doorstep, hidden behind the archway - the first time Mamma left something, she pushed a note through my letterbox saying "Dai fliglia, mangi un pò,  ti sentirai meglio. She left voicemails saying Please o-pen de do' nex-time. We worry an a-we lav a-you". But I disagree; eating won't make me feel better. It'll only make me vomit… again. Of course I'm not trying to make everyone suffer intentionally, I just can't face it... them... the world. After being told there is no hope what's the point, what's the point of anything? I'm not ready for the questions, the whispering conversations behind my back from people in the local shops, the gossip and the confrontation of it all. I just picked at the spaghetti carbonara (Mamma knows it's my favourite) and the basket of freshly made bread wrapped up in one of Mamma's clean kitchen towels. My kitchen always smells like home after I’ve heated the food they leave, the delicious aroma making its way into every nook and cranny. I unwrapped the bread and held the cloth up to my nose, breathing in the familiarity and then I always burst into tears. I remember thinking back to when I was young and living at home, growing up. I
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never thought that something like this would happen to me.

The sofa is beginning to feel uncomfortable; I've been laying here for at least five hours. My head swimming in regret; my heart throbbing with pain. I ache all over and feel sluggish. I fear I will never snap out of this. I should've done more... but what? What did he even want from me? I was trying so hard to be a good wife. Now he's gone and what if I never see him again? Someone has taken him from me and I'm left behind, alone and I don't think I will ever be the same again. I slowly pull myself up into a seated position, feeling like I have a ton of bricks resting on my shoulders. I remove the fleece blanket from around me - this was the blanket that once upon a time used to lay across us on winter evenings snuggled by the fire watching a late movie on the weekend - I stare at it for a moment longer while I flashback, closing my eyes makes it seem real again. I make my way towards the hallway and up the stairs to the bedroom. I don't even know where I'm heading, I just have to move, my feet are doing all the thinking for me. Before I know it, I'm in our bedroom in front of the particular wardrobe that houses all our old photographs. I yank the red box full of random pictures and a few albums down from the shelf, find a place on the floor beside my
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unmade bed and park myself with a thud. I've avoided doing this so far. I knew it would hurt too much, but today, I have to see his face again. I turn open one of the floral albums. That's us when we went to Venice five years ago. Gosh we look so young and in love... That's us at a restaurant in town, La Pentola on our first wedding anniversary - so romantic. I smile as I flick through the album, tears building. I miss him. I know things were tough between us but I always knew he was there and just because they were tough doesn't mean I don't love him or would have wanted this to happen. I hadn't given up on us, I never would have and I don't think I ever will. It's at times like these, when people are pulled away from the ones they love, when disaster strikes, that we really realise how much we care for that person... maybe I took him for granted but I know deep in my heart he feels the same as I do. We were connected once, we can still be connected, can't we? I have to find him, find out what happened. Tears pour down my cheeks as I rub my finger over the clear sheet and across his face.

I roll backwards with a flump and lay still, carpet beneath me, photos scattered around me, staring at the ceiling. I can't just sit around and wait, hoping one day I'll hear the door open downstairs and it'll be him, returning to
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my arms after having been abducted! Or perhaps I'll get a phone call saying, "Mrs. Giordano, we've found your husband's body." No. No. Get these thoughts out of your head Rosella. I can't just sit here and do nothing anymore. I bolt upright. The thought hits me like a flash of lightening - this is it! Brilliant! Why didn't I think of this sooner? I'll hire a Private Investigator. I don't care how much it costs or what I have to do to get one, I'm getting one. They are bound to find him; they'll bring him back to me. I jump to my feet, full of hope and rush to the telephone stand in the hallway downstairs. I pull out the Yellow Pages from the draw and turn the pages without thinking about anything else. P... P... P... I think to myself, searching for the letter. I reach it. P.R.I. I continue to leaf through the inky pages of the "P" section... "P.R.I.V" I say out loud running my index finger down the pages, staining it as I go along, spelling the word out as my eyes dart down and across. THERE. I smack my finger hard against the open book and my heart does a flip. YES! I've found one. Private Investigator, Mr. M. J. Banks. I quickly tear out the page and pick up the phone.

"Hello?" "Hello. Um. I'm not sure I've got the right number?"
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I look back at the yellow page in my hand; the person on the other end is silent. Surely a Private Investigator would answer in more professional manner, in some way to alert the caller that... he is a Private Investigator? Like, Hello, P.I. Banks here, what can I do to assist you? I return to the call, "err, sorry, I'm looking for Mr. M.J.Banks" "This is he." I'm not sure I want to discuss this over the phone. I feel silly; I’ve never done this before. He is probably investigating far more important things in the world, searching for my missing husband may seem ridiculous. "Oh. Hello. Erm..." I stumble on my words. Perhaps I was a little too hasty in calling. I'm not quite sure what to say. "Do you require my services Madam?" "Yes. Yes." I jump to his question. "Yes. I do require your services please." I feel a little awkward. Pacing and wagging my hands at the wrists seems to calm me a little. I hold the phone firmly against my cheek with my shoulder. "Would you like to come in and see me? We can discuss your requirements." "Ok that would be wonderful." He doesn't seem at

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all put out by my bumbling mess of a phone call, he actually seems quite keen to arrange the meeting. Maybe that's a bad sign? Perhaps he's more desperate than I am? Problem is, this meeting requires me actually leaving the house doesn't it? I feel myself wanting to buckle, am I ready to face the world again? Rosella, stop it. It's one quick journey in the car. You’re being silly. "When are you free?" His voice seems warmer, friendlier than it initially was. I think hard. Do I actually want to do this? Do I have a choice? "Err... How about tomorrow morning?" "Yes that's fine, I have an opening at 10:00am, will that be suitable for you?" He's calm and totally put together unlike me. "Err… yes. I'll... I'll be there." I look at the page again for the address. "It's... it's Rosella Giordano by the way, my name, that is." I seem to have developed an embarrassing stammer. "Ok Rosella. May I call you Rosella?" "Yes of course." "I'll see you tomorrow at ten." "Ok. Goodbye." I hang up. What if I get there tomorrow and he laughs at me? Tells me the same as the
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policeman did? What if I just end up sounding like a crazy stalker woman? Oh no, I don’t want him to think I’m a psychopath. I bite my lip as I think. My chest feels heavy. Ugh. But I need to know; there must be something he can do. He's an investigator, he will - investigate... My mind fills with doubt and I feel sick with nerves.

****

Such an effort to get ready. I had to start so early so I could drag my feet in the process, torn between going and staying here in the warmth and comfort of my home… protected. In a constant battle with myself, even up to the last moment, I stand at the door with my bag under my arm. I step out into the fresh grey morning and force myself take the next few steps to the car.

The office is in a grubby brick building. The staircase a dark wood and tatty looking, some of the stairs creak as I take them. I walk up three flights before I get there out of breath, but I didn't want to take the dodgy 1960's looking lift surrounded by a metal cage. I arrive at the door and pause to steady myself. There is a white frosted

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glass window with a black plastic sign in its centre.

Mr. M.J Banks Private Investigator

My palms are sweaty, I feel ridiculous standing here clutching my handbag even though the floor is empty. It’s so quiet up here and daylight is scarce. Under my jacket, my tight blouse is making me feel even more uncomfortable and restricted. I want to turn and run back down the stairs but I can't, I have to do this… I'm here now. If something bad has happened to Filippo I could be the only one to help him. As long as we both shall live... I meant the vows I took. I take three deep breaths look up to the dirty ceiling and breathe out through my mouth with my eyes closed. Composure, I think. I brush my palms against my grey pencil skirt and walk closer to the door, close enough to knock. I do so - three times. "Innnnnnn." I hear faintly. Come in? I turn the brass doorknob and a gush of cigar smoke hurls itself at me. I want to cough but don't want to appear rude so I slowly wave my hand in front of my face to direct the smoke somewhere else and to see where the hell to walk.
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"Hello." I say gingerly as I walk in. There is a man at a desk. Pale grey hair, rounded face to match his tummy. His cream stripped shirt unbuttoned by a few with a muddy brown tie hanging loosely around his neck. His cuffs rolled up revealing his dark hairy forearms, which is proof of his once existing dark hair. To be honest, he looks as though he's been here all night. He stands behind his desk to shake my hand whilst his cigar burns in the ashtray beside him. He appears to be alone, obviously a small company then. Damn, I should've spent more time looking in the Yellow Pages for other Private Investigators - instead, I called the first one I spotted. I'm regretting every second of this so far. "Hello Rosella." Oh, he remembered my name. No, he didn't. I spot my name scribbled untidily on his desk calendar. "Thanks for meeting me at such short notice." I say looking down at the cigar. "Oh you're welcome, please sit down." He fans his hand out toward the worn leather chair to the side of me. I take a seat as he stubs out his cigar. Thank goodness. I was starting to think I'd have to stick my head out the only window in his office for air soon. He notices me looking at it and cracks it open a little. "Thank you." I nod to acknowledge his efforts to
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make me comfortable. The room is cluttered and untidy and smells like a combination of leather mixed with cigar smoke and dust. There are files upon files upon files, all over his desk as well as his cabinets, certificates in frames on the walls and pictures of the beach that aren't hung straight. "Can I get you a coffee?" He breaks my train of thought and points to the freshly brewed coffee in the corner. I'm tempted but decline so he sits down in his large (also leather) chair and it squeaks as he does. "So, what can I do for you?" He looks at me expectantly. "Well..." I pause. "My husband is missing." I say and breathe out the biggest sigh of relief, I'd been holding that in all morning. I was so uptight about coming here today. "Ok." He doesn't react. Of course he doesn't, he's a Private Investigator, he probably has hundreds of women coming in saying the same thing... I look around the room again... maybe not. "He left for work one Saturday morning and..." my voice trails off, "he never came back." I nod and he scribbles something. "And you've reported this to the Police I take it... they of course said there was nothing they could do and you've come to me to find out what's happened... where he is?"
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"Yes, that's exactly it." "Ok." He clicks his pen on the table, "I can help you Rosella but I'm going to need some details from you." I nod again and he clears his throat. "Before we begin, I like to be straight with all my clients from the very beginning of our relationship, I charge a £500 finders fee, this includes, if found, details of his whereabouts, addresses, phone numbers and photographs as proof, et cetera. If you require a more in-depth investigation, I'm afraid it's going to cost you more." He looks at me, his grey-blue eyes stare, glassy looking. "Are you happy with the terms of this agreement?" "Y… yes... that's fine." I am taken aback by his frankness. "What happens if he is un... un-findable?" I wring my hands with nerves. "Well... if we discover that he is untraceable, my fee will be £100 for the use of my resources and administration fees." He leans back in his chair and it creaks again. "Ok. I'm happy with the terms of our agreement." "Ok." He scribbles something else, "sign here please." He pushes over a tatty piece of paper with only a few sentences on it saying, I Rosella Giordano agree that a balance of £500 is due to Mr.M.J.Banks, Private Investigator, for his services as agreed per our meeting dated 10th October 2009. They are as follows: In biro, Mr. Banks had written Missing
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person found, info of whereabouts given and proof of existence. If person untraceable due to death or some other reason, amount due: £100 for resources used. Monies payable in cash, cheque or bank transfer. I read the words over and over. This is so surreal, I can't believe I'm here, doing this and about to sign this paper. This is real. Without another thought I sign my name. He stands and moves over to the very old photocopier. Shit. What have I done? There is no guarantee that he will even be able to help, this could all be a total scam and I've just signed my life away. I signed out of desperation. Oh God. Rosella, just ride it out, you've signed it now, just see what happens… I try hard to keep myself calm. It's like he's reading my mind "Don't worry Rosella, I only take payment once my work is done." "Of course." I pretend I expected that and I look down nervously and embarrassed that he could see my thoughts. "Ok, here is your copy." He pushes a sheet of paper towards me and I take it "Let's get to work." He moves some bits around his desk to make some room. "I trust you've brought a photograph with you?" "Yes." I dig into my handbag, "here it is. His name is Filippo Antonio Giordano but he is mostly known as
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Philip nowadays." "So when is the last time you saw Philip?" "About two weeks ago. It was a Saturday morning and he was standing in the kitchen reading the paper." I pull out a tissue from my bag and wrap it around my index finger to dab the edge of my nose as my eyes fill. "Occasionally he works on a Saturday, he's the CEO at Pride & Brimley, the Insurance Brokers." I sniff. "Ok." He turns the page of his notebook. "And would you consider your relationship to be one of a stable nature?" "I thought it was, stable at least... although we have had problems recently." "Problems? What sort of problems?" He prods for information. "We just haven't been getting on very well, we don't spend much time together, he works a lot, snaps at me… maybe he was under a lot of pressure and I didn’t know? I suppose we’ve grown apart in many ways..." my voice trails off. "In what ways?" He scribbles things down as I reply. "Well, he's very much into his work, and his work colleagues and that kind of life and I'm not really involved in
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that much - he keeps us very separate most of the time, except not so long ago I went to the office barbecue… I suppose he felt like he had to take me since I was always saying he didn’t take me anywhere… but I meant somewhere alone, like he used to, not where his colleagues would be." "Hmm." He frowns and purses his lips while he thinks. "Right. Did you notice anything suspicious?" "Suspicious?" No not really." I shrug. "He was his normal - irritated by me - self." "Right." He says again. "So you and he had a relationship breakdown?" "I suppose you could call it that, but I never stopped loving him, not deep down - I disliked him at times but..." "Ok, I'm going to need various bits of information from you." He says clicking his pen again. "Sure." I try to sound helpful.

I leave the office of Mr. M.J.Banks feeling exhausted. Michael (as he asked me to call him) asked for every little detail about Filippo - his likes, his dislikes, his hobbies, family, friends, places he may have gone, any enemies that

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might have taken him, if he owed money, he asked about our lives together - everything. I mean, no question was out of bounds or even seemed ridiculous to him. He even asked the last time we'd had sex. I blushed of course remembering my ridiculous attempt to seduce him and then blushed even more when I realised it had been around three months since we’d been in the slightest bit intimate. I've taken back my previous misconception that Michael had no idea what he was doing, I was wrong. Drudging back old memories and thinking so intently about Filippo has only brought on a deep sadness that I cannot even begin to explain in words. I feel such a sorrow in the pit of my stomach, so empty and hurt. Angry, even scared, but mostly... mostly I feel rejected, having our relationship under such scrutiny has made be realise just how disjointed we were.

I am under strict instructions to continue as normal, not to think about this or expect results immediately, finding a missing person isn't an overnight thing, he said. Ironic that Mr. Banks should tell me not to bank on it! I didn't want to confess that my life has been far from normal lately, that this is the first time in almost two weeks I've peeled myself off the sofa and put clothes on. I feel a pang of guilt when it
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registers exactly how terribly I've been behaving towards Mamma and Papa and Eva too. I will call them and apologise, although under these circumstances, I know they will forgive me; I know they understand.

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7. When the Lights Go Out
I stick the letter opener into the corner of the sealed envelope and slide it along. Its tearing sends chills down my spine. I'm dreading this. I gingerly pull out the folded paper and unfold it, hands shaking. Shit. I knew this would happen... I knew it. With very little money left in our account, bills are just not being paid. I've tried the best I can, honest; I've not splurged on anything, not even food! I've been paying the minimum fee owed each month but things are getting dire. It's been six weeks since Filippo's disappearance and things haven't improved, in fact they've gotten worse. I'm swimming in debt, debt that he left behind, his credit card payments, the car, the up-keep of the house as well as making the mortgage payments... it's never ending. I'm living on a prayer that the lights will come on each time I flick the switch, that water will flow from the taps, the central heaters will warm the house when the timer tells them to on these chilly evenings. I'm half expecting Bailiffs to turn up and take my TV any moment and the police to arrest me for council tax arrears. My heart pounds in my chest. I'm on my last few pennies and I'm struggling so bad that I'm back to eating toast for dinner and not through choice this time. Eva keeps offering
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to pay for things but I just can't allow her to, it's unfair... She already offered to pay the car payments off but I told her I had plenty of money, that luckily Filippo had lots of money in the bank before his disappearance, of course it's a lie and I'm almost positive she knows it, but I'm not prepared to sink. I can't. I just need to get back on my feet. My family think that I'm struggling a little but I keep the truth of it a secret. There has been no word from Mr. Banks… Michael; he last told me that he was finding it difficult to track any sort of information on Filippo down. He's spent each day scouring the earth for him, saying he also finds it bizarre that he has simply vanished into thin air and no one knows where he is. He asked me if Filippo was involved in anything dodgy. I wanted to laugh, dodgy? Filippo? The only thing dodgy he was involved in was his choice of ties! Michael said he thought that Filippo must no longer be with us. I had to ask him if he meant dead. My heart sank when he nodded, vomit rising in my throat. He's gone? I had to force myself to take a breath again. Although I'd thought of it… many times, actually hearing the words from someone’s mouth made it more real somehow. I cried for hours, my pillow drenched in my tears. But now - I don't cry anymore, I'm just numb. Each day is as dull as the last and dealing with such depression over money dues is draining. I can’t
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function, I’m far too tired and angry but all I can do is try to survive this. I gulp hard as I see the court summons before me for missing payments on one of the cards. At the beginning of the red letters, I kept hoping that Filippo would rush in and rescue me, I had dreams that he was lying next to me and holding me, telling me everything would be ok. They say the dead come to visit you in your dreams. I can't go, ugh, this is my worst nightmare. Tears well up in my eyes. I push my fingers through my drab, brown, un-kept hair and force my eyes tightly shut hoping it will make all of this go away… when I open them, everything will be the way it was. I’m afraid; I don't know what to do or how I will even collect enough money to make the payments. I've had garden sales; selling things about the house, an old chest of draws in great condition - £35, a beautiful lampshade made with exquisite fabric - £20. These were once expensive things but I have no choice. I think people feel sorry for me; rumours have circulated around the neighbours, each with their own versions of what's happened. I could see the pity in their faces as they bought our things, but I had to rise above it,
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swallow my pride and accept it. No one has ever really mentioned anything to me; no one really knows what to say. I mean, what can you say to someone who has been abandoned in such a way and is now dealing with her husband’s debtors? Half of what Filippo owed I don't think I even knew about - I always thought he was good with money and that we had plenty of it... and we did, we did because the things he splurged on were not purchased with the money we had, but the credit cards he kept. I was foolishly wrong. Now, I have £25,000 to clear, more and more bills that are piling higher and higher and all I can do is pray for a miracle. Do I hate him yet? Sometimes. But most of the time I don't even want to get out of bed, most of the time I think about ending the whole thing, then I realise how ridiculously selfish that would be. A court summons? What will I do? If I don't reply to this or turn up, I'll be fined more money I don't have, but I just can't bear to face it. And I know that this is all going to come crashing down on me very soon. I have to find a way out of this mess. **** "I've brought wine with me." Eva bursts through the door. God knows I need it.
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"Ok." I reply and feel like drinking the whole bottle myself. "Darling you look..." her voice dwindles, "you look exhausted with worry." I shrug it off. "Are you OK?" "Oh yes. I'm fine." I force a smile. How can I lie to my best friend like this? And my family? They have no idea of my situation and I don't know how to break it to them, I seem to have gotten myself wrapped up so tightly in this that I can't unravel. "Listen, tonight we're going to have a great time and not worry about anything alright?" I nod. Since Eva finds it hard to take no for an answer, keeping her at bay while I recover from this is near impossible. Soon after my apology phone call, she was over like a shot. She moseys over to the kitchen and collects two large wine glasses. I try hard to put on a brave face but my undereyes are dark and puffy from crying and I look a mess. My over-stretched beige cardigan, old and dishevelled, my saggy joggers are far too big for me after losing so much weight, but I can't get rid of them... I can't replace them more to the point! My T-shit stained with some sort of food, been washing my clothes in the bath by hand using soap like in the olden days, how Mamma showed me when I was a kid. I know I have a perfectly good washing machine but this way
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saves electricity and saving electricity saves money. I pull out the scrunched up tissue from my pocket and wipe under my eyes as Eva removes the cork from the wine bottle. "Bla. sted. th. ing. come - on." She says on every yank. A stubborn cork - the wine clearly doesn't want to be drunk! "One... Two... Thr..." Suddenly the lights go out at the same time as the cork comes flying out of the bottle. Eva screams. Shit. The shitting electricity has been shitting-well switched off. Shit! Now what am I to say? There’s no getting out of this one with an excuse like ‘the cork smashed the light bulb’ - I close my eyes in dread. The house in total darkness. "Rosella?" I hear her voice close to me; I feel her hands reach up my face, prodding around to find me. "Yes. I'm here." I reply exasperated. I give up. I give up the pretence. "What the hell is going on?" "My electricity has been switched off." I reply, my voice sounding not so surprised. "What? Why? Are you sure we just haven't blown a fuse or something?" "How, by opening a bottle of wine? Suddenly the cork has magic powers? No. My electricity has definitely been switched off." "But how can you be sure? Let's test the hallway
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lights or something, it could just be in here, it could be a blown fuse Ro." She shuffles about slowly, making her way towards where she believes the door could be. "Eva, I'm late paying my bill... again." She stops shuffling, I'm guessing her jaw is open right about now. "What? Why?" "I don't have enough money." There, I said it. It's out. She knows. "What?" She sounds pissed off. "Why didn't you say something Rosella? I'm your friend you should have told me." "I know." My voice breaks. "I... I thought I could handle it, I thought I was going to be ok but then it all got on top of me and I couldn't cope... I didn't know how to tell you, or anyone..." Tears pour down my cheeks, a part of me unburdened by telling the secret I'd been harbouring. "Oh, Sweetheart." I hear her shuffle towards me, her arms stretched out to find me, she reaches me and grabs me into her arms. "Come here you silly woman!" She holds me as I cry. "Let's find some candles and have a chat, we still have the wine you know! The night is young!" We giggle. "You do have candles don't you?" "Yes." I sniff away the tears. "I do have a few, they're in the draw." The room is so dark I can't even see my hand in front of my face. I feel around my kitchen knowing
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exactly where I put them, I count the draws as I move and finally open the end one. I feel around and pull out the tea lights and lighter and light one in my hand. The tiny flame shines a small golden glow in the room and I can see Eva’s face. "That's better." She says. I finish lighting all five tea lights and place them on the kitchen work top, looks like a bloody séance in here. We sit around it on the high stools as Eva pours the wine. Thank God for wine. "How did it get this bad honey?" She asks as she sips slowly. "I mean, I've been offering to help you for weeks and you wouldn't take it, if you knew it was this bad why didn't you?" "I just didn't think it was right, you having to sort out my problems. Plus I didn't realise it was this bad myself." "But that's what friends are for Ro, we are there for each other. I know you would do the same for me wouldn't you?" "Of course I would." "Well then." I know I'm wrong for not accepting her help, for not telling her and how I feel right now, I'm so glad I have. What was I thinking? She's my best friend. "So?" She asks. "What now Mrs. Independent?" I stand up and move over to the cabinet and pull out the
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summons. I show her it and she gasps. "Rosella! I can't believe this." Her eyes bulge. "How much money do you owe?" "£25,000." I swallow hard, embarrassed. "I can't believe Philip left you in this mess." "Me neither!" I sip my wine and look down. “Although I’m still not entirely sure he even had a choice.” "Let me help you, Rosella." Finally I feel I have no choice but to accept her help. "I will pay you back every single penny. That is a promise." I look meaningfully into her eyes. "You don't need to do that." "Yes I do." I bow my head. "I just need you to get the debtors off my back for a while. I have been mulling over some things and I just need a little time." "Mulling?" Her eyes wide with interest. "I've been trying to think of a plan." "A plan?" She asks, her eyes even wider. "I have to get a job." She gasps loudly. "Oh no!" "Yes. I have to, I can't expect you to dig me out of this one." "But a job is so drastic, what about our lunches?" She is totally serious; I shake my head at her with a grin on my face.
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"Eva, I'm afraid they are going to have to be put on hold for the time being." I sniff a giggle. So does she. "What will you do?" "I have no idea, but I'm thinking of getting in contact with my old colleague at Candy, maybe she could help me? It's been a long time but..." My voice fades. "Also," I pick my head up again, "I think I'm going to go back home for a while." "Back to Mamma’s?" "Yes. Mamma and Papa don't know it yet of course, but while things are this bad..." I look around the dark room, "I feel I have no choice. It's just until I get back on my feet." "Come and live with me, we'll have great fun!" "Err, bad idea. You spend far too long in the bathroom! Plus, I'll never get a job if I do and we'll drink far too many cocktails." I throw a laugh. "What's wrong with that?" She chuckles and then shrugs. "Thanks honey, but I think I need to be at home for a while, besides, I miss home and I haven't been a very good daughter lately." "They understand. You've been going through so much." She reaches for my hand. "I hope they'll take me in for a while."
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"Are you kidding? I bet they're hoping you'll ask them so Mamma can make you your favourite dishes. And by the way, I'll be over to visit like when we were kids." I smile as I remember the sleepovers in the garage and the tents we used to make in the garden, we'd huddle together and she'd tell us the ghost stories her Aunt, Zia Ornella, used to tell her as she held a torch under her chin. "We did have fun didn't we?" "Always." She picks up her glass and holds it up towards me, "to life-long friendship." I clink her glass, "to life-long friendship." Time floats by as we reminisce our childhoods and even though I feel better for having shared my secret with my best friend, the worry remains in the back of my mind. Even though I have finally come to the decision to ask for help from my friends and family - the ones who love me - it makes it no easier to deal with. I'm mad with myself for not being able to find a way out of this mess by myself. But is there really any harm in accepting or asking for help from the people that mean the most to you? From the people that want to see you succeed in life? There are times in our lives when we think about who we would turn to in times of need, we judge our friendships on a scale, from someone you
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know, to someone who would step in front of a bus for you... Is there any wrong in turning to those special people and asking them to help you through the most tragic time of your entire life? I have to remind myself... I am not made of stone, I am not always strong, not perfect, I will fail and I will falter. I will cry and I will hurt, I am only human and everybody needs help sometimes. To accept help from these people does not make me a weak person. **** Sunday morning is bright; the sky is pale. I pull up outside Mamma and Papa's house, my childhood home... I feel as though I haven't been here in years. Filippo never really liked to come here. He said that we had a bigger house and that it would be nice to have them over to us so we could spoil them. He just didn't like the smell of ragu cooking or the salsiccia hanging in the veranda. It was all too Italian for him. No, at our place there was silence, order, clean lines and matching place mats. They asked me once, why it is that Filippo and I never went to their home anymore... I had to make up a story but of course they knew something wasn't right. They never seemed totally comfortable in my house, Papa always seemed to act out of place, sort of like a spare part, like he didn't know what to
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do with himself. He was completely out of his comfort zone. It almost looked like he felt he couldn't sit down on the posh, expensive sofa... but they came anyway. Hell, even I felt uncomfortable in my own home most of the time! It was never really decorated how I liked it, I never had much say in what our home looked like, even though I was the one to keep it. We had to have a certain type of tile in the bathroom, a certain type of drape, the rugs had to be made of specific fibers and the decor had to be minimal, this was all to appease his colleagues. Mamma and Papa's house is a mix mash of everything, although never messy. Mamma always kept a good home. Cabinets with crockery and glassware on display for the huge dinner parties, family and friends would come over on special occasions or for huge spaghettatas - almost every dish in those cabinets had been used at least twice. The things we have on display at our house have no purpose, they are just things. Mamma always used to fuss over us when we would come over and Filippo hated fuss, hated the loud talking, the music in the background while we ate, the endless food coming from the kitchen. Now I remember it, it was almost as though he wanted to be somewhere else. Probably reading the paper in the conservatory or sipping a sophisticated drink with is work colleagues.

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They aren't expecting me. But I know they are home, they are always home on Sundays. Mamma will have prepared the ragu for the pasta and for the next course, she'll have prepared bistecca, ready to griddle with a colourful salad. Papa will be in the garden, examining the latest shoots and he’ll be spraying his lettuce and rape plants, fussing over his vegetable patches while he sings to them, usually Simpatia by Casadei - says it helps them grow! I decide to leave my case in the car, just until I ask them if I can have my old room back... I know they will not turn me away but I'm still shaking like a leaf. I swallow hard and walk towards the door. I press the doorbell and the same dainty tune that used to chime all those years ago still sings back at me, ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong, I smile to myself. The door opens, it's Mamma, her auburn hair curled from the rollers she'd used that morning, her face fresh and her eyes bright, you wouldn't look at her and say she's sixtyfive. Her thick, short frame stands before me, dressed in her usual home clothes of a pair of comfortable trousers, pale pink twinset and her apron. She gasps and drops the tea towel in her hands as she throws them to her mouth. It's when I step into the hallway that I really realise I haven't seen this place in a long time and Mamma's eyes well up, she is bubbling with emotion. The smell is delicious and warm
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and fills my senses. She wraps her arms around me and squeezes tightly. Phone calls are all very well - I called them too to say I was sorry about not answering the door those times they dropped the food off for me - but they are nothing compared to seeing someone's face, holding them, watching their expressions, being with them. Hardly any words are exchanged between us as she ushers me to the veranda and calls for Papa. He looks up from his plants and drops his small garden spade. His thick wavy hair still so prominent on his head at the age of sixtysix, although both it and his stubble revealing speckles of grey. His tummy a little larger than I remember it but that could be the pale jumper he's wearing. Just as I wave, he runs, hobbling because of his bad leg, towards me and Mamma, who now has tears streaming down her face. "Vedi Aldo..." she says, "she come a-home, she come back a-home." She screams in excitement and relief. Papa throws his arms around me and squeezes me to his chest. Seems as though they've been waiting for me to come to my senses. I've got a lot of mending to do and there is no better place on earth to mend than at home. We stand in the doorway for what seems like ages, all three of us crying. I don't think I can remember the last time I felt this loved. I should've come home sooner.

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8. Numbnuts
My eyelids feel glued together. I cried myself to sleep last night. First night in my old bed since I was in my early twenties. I smell the room and its unmistakable homesmell comforts me. I open one eye slowly and then the other so as not to rip any eyelashes out. My vision is blurry but I can see my old wardrobe. Pale pine with a panel of shelves on the edge - Papa built them for me, travelled to the ends of the earth to get the wood to match my wardrobe. Still on them rests pictures in frames of Eva and me as kids, me with Mamma when I was two, sitting on her lap clutching a Lady Finger biscuit between my tiny chubby fingers. Eyes, big and brown with long dark eyelashes looking right at the camera. My face, grubby with sugary bits stuck around my mouth and Mamma laughing, looking away from the camera at someone else in the room. It's my favourite picture of us. Ugh, there's that picture of me in high school with a permed mullet - I wish she'd take that down, I look like I spent fortyfive minutes back-combing my fringe! I'm standing next to Eva, also with aforementioned permed mullet and backcombed fringe, come to think of it, it was her that got me into the back-combing - well, she was and still is the oracle of knowledge when it comes to hair, make up and fashion. I'm perched up against Eva, my elbow resting on her shoulder
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while she stands face on with her arms folded and her leg cocked. We thought we were so cool, but what fifteen year old doesn't? I giggle to myself, I'll never forget the school disco; Spencer asked me to slow dance right at the very end. I'd never really slow danced before. Mamma and Papa always made me feel that getting close to a boy at a young age was a wrong thing to do, they said that I should enjoy being young while I was young and that when it was the right time to do things of an adult, I'd do them. Hence the reason I was never allowed to wear red nail varnish until I was eighteen - Papa thought it was too grown up. I never really understood what they meant about "the right time", I always thought it was the right time. I always wanted to be older and more mature than I was and when people told me I looked eighteen when I was sixteen I thought it was the best compliment I could ever hope to receive. Now I wish I could turn back the clock and be young again. I fold my arms over my duvet and feel the warm, soft texture of my lemon quilt cover. Do I have to get out of bed? I drink in my surroundings, not even the wallpaper has changed, white with tiny yellow flowers scattered evenly across the walls. My dressing table dressed with ornaments and jewellery dishes, a porcelain miniature hand for my rings. The oval mirror sparkles like the day it was
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purchased. I slowly get up and feel my head clear. I pull out the cushioned stool and sit at the dressing table. Years and years of getting ready in front of this mirror, powdering my nose, applying my eyeliner and lipstick. I breathe a deep breath, I'm home again, back where I belong. I open the tiny draws by the side of me and see an array of things I'd forgotten I even had. Glitter pens, eye shadow pots, fruity lip balms, Mamma never threw anything away, they smell sort of off now but they are just as pretty as they were. A heart-shaped notebook with a fluffy cat on the front looks back at me, pages and pages of names and addresses of kids I met when I was in Italy for all those summer holidays, we used to write to each other when I returned home. Cousins, friends of cousins, boys! I skim through and reminisce. Chiara, she was the only blonde Italian girl in the village, her and her mother. Most people are under the misconception that all Italians look like me, dark and hairy, but not Chiara, she was like a beautiful princess, Cinderella they called her. All the boys loved her of course. She was my cousin's friend and she was learning English so I practised my Italian while she practised her English. Going over to Italy as a child was the best, except for one thing... everybody called me Inglesina, which means little English girl... and while I grew up being Italian in England, when I was in Italy I was the girl from England... It
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was awfully confusing at times. It seemed to get me some attention though; everybody wanted to know who this new girl in town was. They didn't know that it was just me! I laugh to myself, gosh I remember Nico, he was my cousin, Gianpaolo's best friend and he was the most delicious boy I'd ever seen, he never knew this naturally - I was far too shy to admit it at the time, but he really did get my heart racing and my palms sweating. When he gave me his address to write to him, along with the gang that hung around together at le passeggiate - sort of our version of a high street, the whole village would walk up and down the same strip of road the whole night long, anyone who was anyone was there, posing most of the time. There was much to see; people selling handmade jewellery on the side of the road on sheets of fabric, ornaments made of wood sold from bancarelle, I even remember tiny baby chicks being sold and miniature tortoises in colourful little tanks. Food was sold from stands, usually delicious Panzerotti or Calzone, even delicious Zeppole were there. There'd be buckets of olives and Lupini in salt water and Papa would always buy me a cup full, which we'd eat while we walked. Then I'd meet up with my friends and we'd sing and laugh on the beach with a campfire lit on the sand. I went on my first moped and got stung by a medusa at that beach one summer, I survived of course but it bloody hurt. Badly. The memories flood in as I
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remember my youth; my eyes fill as I feel the nostalgia. Life was so easy back then, so happy and so uncomplicated. I place the booklet back into the draw, close it and open my wardrobe to pull out the towelling robe Mamma has in there. I put it on and slip my feet into some pink slippers left at the bottom. The smell of Mamma's espresso has encouraged me to leave the memories of my room behind and follow the scent. Although, Espresso as my morning coffee... well, it's been a long time. My usual poison has been Filippo's favourite percolated coffee, the posh one he orders from the deli down the street from the house. But perhaps this is the start of my new life and I do need some Dutch courage today. I walk down the carpeted stairs slowly, looking at the pictures that adorn the beige artex walls. A picture of Mamma and Papa on their wedding day in black and white, one of me as a baby, me and my grandparents in Italy and finally as I reach the bottom, a family portrait by the telephone stand. I smile and make my way past the large, gold framed mirror by the front door to the kitchen. Mamma has laid a beautiful table, set for a Queen. All this for me? I expected perhaps a bowl of cereal with my coffee, maybe a slice or two of toast. The table is packed with deliciousness; peach and fruits of the forest yoghurts placed in the centre, slices of toasted Panella
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bread in a basket, a plate of jam filled Cornetti and chocolate Brioches sprinkled with icing sugar. My mouth salivates as I smell another round of bread toasting. "Ahh, sei svegliata? Buon giorno Filgia." Mamma says as she suddenly spots me at the doorway, glaring at the table with eyes bulging, she's drying dishes at the same time as preparing breakfast! "Hai dormito bene? Hai fame?" She asks, wanting to be sure I slept comfortably. Hungry? How could anyone not feel hungry with a table like this before them? I didn't even know I was hungry until I came downstairs and saw this. And even if I wasn't, I wouldn't be able to resist the temptation of trying one of everything. I cannot recall the last time I had a breakfast like this, or the last time someone prepared it for me more to the point. I walk over to her and kiss her on her cheek. "Good morning Mamma." She pulls my cheek and taps my face with glee. "Si-down." She ushers me to the table. "Ya, I make you espresso or cappuccino?" She claps her hands together and waits for me to reply. "Err..." there's a choice? "I'll have a cappuccino please." I sit awkwardly with my palms pressed together and between my knees like a shy schoolgirl. I don't say much. It's early but also, I don't know what to say, I'm overwhelmed. I look at the table of delicious food more
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closely and reach for a yoghurt to start. If I eat breakfast like this every morning I will end up looking like a house. I suppose putting on a few pounds won't matter since I've lost twelve over the past weeks. Mamma scurries off to prepare the imported coffee contraption that is apparently able to make a variety of coffee options - espressos, cappuccinos, lattes... "Where's Papa?" I ask. I don't see him in the back garden as I look through the window onto it. "He gone to get some-a tings from Carmelo's." Carmelo's is the Italian Deli close to home that sells a wide variety of Italian products. "He gone to stop a la pizzeria to ge sum dow." I smile to myself as I listen to her cut from the broken English she speaks, into Italian. I've missed her so much. She dries her wet hands on edge of her floral apron. "You like marmellata wid a-yo tossta?" "With my what Mamma?" "Yo tossta?" She points but I don't know what she's pointing at, what's a tossta? "Wid a-YO TOSSTA" she louder as if that will help me understand. She walks over to the table and points out the toasted bread. "Ohh, TOAST, sorry, I didn't understand." I must be half asleep. She smiles at me and rolls her eyes as if I'm the one that's been saying it wrong all these years. "Err, yes please, I'll have some marmalade." She hands me the jar of the orange kind and I spread it over the melted butter on my
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warm toast. I take a bite and chew, sip my warm, milky, frothy cappuccino and I'm in heaven. It's Monday and I mustn't forget why I'm here. I have to get a job, find a way out of this financial debt I'm in. I help clear the table, kiss Mamma and make my way back up to my room to prepare for my day. I open my handbag and pull out my Filofax, flick to 'B'. Blink… Susan. Susan Blink, my old work colleague at Candy Cosmetics. She still works for them, it's been a long time since we've spoken but we've kept in touch over the years. I pull out my mobile phone from my bag and dial her number. "Hello?" "Sue?" "Yes, this is she." "Hi, it's Rosella." "Rosella? Hi darling, how are you?" "I'm fine thanks… how are…" She interrupts my question. "Move you bastard, in-di-cation ON, can't you see I'm right here?" She sounds animated "Ugh, bloody idiot drivers." "Sorry Sue, is this a bad time?" "I'm on my way to work, the traffic is immense." Beep beeeep, she honks her horn. "Sorry Rosella… there’s a stupid
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twit right…" She stops mid sentence… Beeeeep. I can tell this is a bad time, what was I even thinking? That she could help me? "Don't worry, I'll call you some other time." Beep beeeeep, she honks her horn again. "Call me at lunchtime." She says. "Really?" "Yes, in fact, what are you doing today? Why don't you come meet me for lunch, we'll grab something to eat... been meaning to catch up, lots to tell." "Really?" I say again. "Can't wait, sounds great. What time, where?" I try not to sound too over excited. This is perfect. "One. The office. Shit. Gotta go. Nuuuummmbbbbbbnutttsssssssss!" "See you later." The phone goes dead. It couldn't have gone more perfect. I wonder what she's got to tell me. It felt like old times on the phone with her, then I feel a pang of guilt for not really doing too much to maintain our friendship after Filippo moved us and said that my old work colleagues were tacky. Meeting Sue at the office will allow me to get a feel for it again, hopefully I'll walk in, see all the old faces I used to work with and it'll all come right back to me, all the confidence I once had. I leap up full of beans to quickly make my bed, I'd almost forgotten what it felt like… hope. I lift my duvet in both hands and pull it into the air,
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then watch it fall into place on the mattress. After a couple of strokes to remove any left over creases, I put the pillows one on top of the other and I’m done. Single beds are always so quick and easy to make. Then I wonder - should I be boasting about sleeping in a single bed again? Probably not! My suitcase is still full. After arriving yesterday and dinner with Mamma and Papa, what with filling them in on what had been going on, I just didn't get a chance to unpack it. I hurl it onto my bed, unzip it and flip the lid back, pulling out my clothes and hanging them up on the empty hangers in the wardrobe. I examine what I have, I need to choose something special today to meet with Sue, I cannot just turn up looking like the dishevelled woman I have become. I need my job back, otherwise I don't know what I'll do. The reality of the matter is that I don't know if I can even do my old job. I can't remember how to do a presentation, how to sell products, hook in clients. I think I'd need a crash course. But I know, if there is a job available, Sue will give me it purely based on the fact that I used to work my socks off for her. The day I left she said to me "Are you sure you're making the right decision?" I nodded and told her that my life was with Filippo now, that I wanted children... she smiled and patted my hand, "if you
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ever want to come back," she said "there's always a place for you here at Candy." How grateful I am for those words, I just hope she meant them. Once my clothes are unpacked, my delicates in the draws and my shoes are stashed, I unpack my hold-all of make up and toiletries, then head for the bathroom. The bathroom hasn’t changed a bit; blue and white tiles and laminate flooring. The bathroom suite is simple and sparkles like it's brand new. Mamma keeps it like this everyday, cleaning every inch of her house until it glistens. I remember when they had it tiled and the bathroom suite fitted, complete with bidet (very Mediterranean). Lots of kids thought it was a weird looking second toilet but I've never known a bathroom without one… I’m sure some of them peed in there by accident! All our family friends and relatives have them, here and in Italy. I pull the shower curtain closed and stand under the water as it pulses over my head, perfect time to think about how I'm going to ask Sue for my job back. I dress myself and pad downstairs to Mamma and Papa in the garden cutting lettuce heads out of the mud; I pass the infamous salsiccia and pass the crates of red ripe tomatoes ready to be squashed into Passata in the veranda.
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Mamma has a bundle of lettuces wrapped up in her apron, she gets off her knees as she sees me. "I'm off to meet an old work friend, I'm going to try and get my old job back." Mamma looks at Papa who looks back at me. I'm dressed smartly for a change, I look a little more put together than I have done of late, even I know that. I'm wearing my black tapered suit jacket that I haven't worn in years, a white silk camisole underneath it and some black trousers with my favourite heels. I stand on the concrete so as not to sink into the grass. "O, dis is a-good Figlia, you look a-lavaly." Papa says. "Ba you don ave to look-a-so soon, give-a-yo-self sum atime." He pushes his glasses up to the bridge of his nose and wipes his forehead with his forearm. His brown eyes look at me sympathetically as they always do. "Thanks Papa, it’s just lunch, I’m not getting my hopes up… it’s Susan, do you remember her?" I scrunch my brow, "she came for dinner once a long time ago." "Capelli neri?" "Yes, black hair, up to here." I demonstrate a line with my fingers by my jaw. "Ay remember. She nice." He nods. "Hopefully I'll be able to convince her to hire me again." "No warry." He hobbles over then the pain wares off
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and he can walk normally again. "You get it." He says and pats the side of my face affectionately. "Ciao bella, be a-keful." Mamma turns and says. "I will, ciao Mamma." I kiss her and leave. Plenty of time I think as I look at my watch quickly while I hop in the car, I'll make my way there slowly and then I won't turn up in a sweat. That's the last thing I want, I hate being late and it will look very bad on me if I am, especially with the task at hand. I have to portray a confident, together sort of woman, no baggage, no problems, no debt or desperation... again, a completely together sort of woman. No idea how I'll manage, Sue has known me for long enough to know when I'm lying. Now I’ve got the idiot driver in front of me, Ugh! And they say women are bad drivers?! "Mooooooveeeee numbbbbbbbnuttttts!" Beeeeep beep.

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9. The Lunch Date
My heart pounds in my chest. Pumping blood around my body so fast I feel I might pass out at any second. I'm nervous and I’m sweaty. It's 12:50pm; I'm ten minutes early for my lunch meeting with Sue. Deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth, filling my lungs with as much air as I can before I step into the offices I once called my second home. I stand before the huge silver framed glass doors, going over in my head how to ask for my job back without sounding too desperate, even though, basically, I am. Calm down, I tell myself… Mantra time: Rosella, you can do this, Rosella you can do this… no, you HAVE to do this. Without further ado I pull back the heavy door and walk directly to the lift and press the call button. The sign outside the lift still says Floor 3 - H.O. Candy Beauty & Cosmetics, and why wouldn't it? It says exactly the same thing it said four years ago. The doors part and I enter alone, then press the button for the third floor. Very shortly after the doors close, there's a ping and they open again. Super fast lift! Faster than I remember. Floor 3, it says on the wall in front of me. I feel the lump forming in my throat again - the nervous lump that always makes it hard for me to swallow. I feel strong palpitations and my sweaty palms as I
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exit and take a sharp right to the reception desk. "Rooooooooo!" Michelle, the old receptionist is still here. "Michelle." I smile happily, trying hard to act comfortable and not like I'm about to choke on my tonsils. "How are you dolly-bird?" She's super sweet, she's called everyone dolly-bird as far back as I can remember. "I'm fine... fine." I reply, almost certain that my eyes give away just how 'fine' I really am. She doesn't seem to notice and is as bouncy and happy as I recall her to be. "Oh my God it's so great to see you." "And how have you been?" I small talk, swallowing hard. "I've been great, had a little nipper two years back… Jacob. He's a cutie." She holds up the picture of him on her desk, and he is cute in his blue aeroplane outfit on, bright blue eyes, even though one looks a little inward, but perhaps it's just the camera angle. "Ahh bless him, he's gorgeous… going to be a heartbreaker!" I say with a smile as I begin to let the nerves fade away. "Yeahhhh." She smiles proudly. "So are you just dropping by or here to see someone?" "I'm here to meet Sue for lunch actually." Feels weird when I say it. It's been so long, she must be
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wondering why I even called her. "Ooh nice, I'll call her for you." She picks up the phone beside her and presses a couple of buttons then speaks into the phone. "One, two, one, two." Oh gosh I'm mortified. Her voice blares through the loud speaker system to all phones on the Candy floor, "Susan Blink, Susan Blink to reception please, blast from the past here to see you. Blast. From the past. Over and out." She smiles at me and hangs up. She never was very subtle that Michelle, I wonder if anyone will run around the corner to see who it is. I want to leg it to the lift. "She's usually running around you see, so I just like to call her over loud speaker." She explains, finding it funny. "Right." I clutch my handbag and wait in the reception area for her to come. I glance at my watch while Michelle waffles on about how her son is almost in his terrible two's and is having real tantrums at the supermarket. Wants what he can't have apparently. Don't we all? I nod politely, and while it's great to see her after so many years, I just can't concentrate on what she's saying. Thank God she hasn't asked for more details on what I've been up to recently. Err, getting over my husband's disappearance and dealing with the debt he left behind, have no electricity at home so was forced to move back to my parents house thanks for asking! People never really want to know the bad
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stuff that you go through, 'how you doing?' has really only become an extension of 'hello'. "Rosella, darling." Sue takes the corner and sees me sitting in one of the brown leather chairs flicking through a magazine. She hasn't changed a bit, her black hair still to her chin in a sharp bob, her eyes still as green and her skin still as pale as it was when we used to sneak off at lunchtime for the odd glass of vino. She looks like a china doll, petite and perfect. Her grey business suit slick and exquisitely crafted; must be designer. She's wearing high patent black stilettos, so high I ask myself how she can even walk in them, but she manages perfectly. "Hi, Sue." I stand up quickly to greet her. I hope I look sharp enough for her, I know she notices things like pulled threads and wrinkles. She hugs me, so I hug her back then quickly check myself surreptitiously. "You've lost weight, darling." She says and I look down at myself again. "Maybe a few pounds." I shrug. "Come on," she says, "let me take you around the offices; let's go say hi to Janice, you remember Janice don't you?" "Of course, Janice in Sales?" I reply and the lump that threatened to come back has thankfully slithered away
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down my throat. "Well, she doesn't work in Sales anymore, she's been promoted." She nods this news at me as if it should mean something. It feels like no time has passed between us. This is fine; I'm doing just fine. I feel like this could be perfect, me coming back here again. Sue knows how much I loved my job and I was good at it, although ‘was’ is the operative word here. We walk around, side by side through the open plan office and I hardly recognise anyone, so much seems to have changed, they've had the whole area re-done, fancy desk partitions and pine looking desks in groups of four on the calling floor. The Customer Service department is now a huge pod in the centre of the room, twelve people sit with headsets on saying "hello, you've reached Candy Beauty & Cosmetics Customer Care how can we help you today?" Then at the end they say, "thank you for choosing Candy." one after the other. The office is buzzing. Sue is the Sales Manager and actually takes care of the Customer Service Employees too since it all comes back to the selling and purchasing of Candy's products. She points out all the new departments, like Human Resources and Design. When I worked here, there was the Marketing Department run by
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Jane Edwards, they incorporated design within their team and Human Resources was dealt with by Matthew Simmons who was the in-house accountant, paying all Candy's bills along with our wages. Things have certainly gone up a step or two and there is definitely a larger work force. "Everybody is super excited because Laura is in a good mood today." "Laura?" I ask curiously. "Oh that's right, you've not had the privilege of meeting Laura Ashford, Managing Director have you?" She asks. "No." She rolls her eyes at me. "She's a bit of a bitch to put it frankly." She whispers, her nose slightly wrinkled. "That's one of the things I have to fill you in on." Her eyes grow wide with her mouth hardly moving as the words come out. "Right." I nod. "Hi Janice, look who's come to visit." Janice runs over and hugs me. "Janice is Laura Ashford's PA." Sue says looking tight lipped. Janice rolls her eyes like she hates her boss. "So nice to see you again." I say trying to lighten the mood. "You too, better get back too it before..." and she makes an invisible knife slitting her throat. Blimey, this
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Laura Ashford sounds awful. "Bye." She scurries off back to work. "Let's go eat, I'm famished." Sue says as she links arms with me. "Yes, me too." I reply, even though I'm far too nervous to think about food at a time like this. The truth is, regardless of how terrible Laura Ashford is, or anyone else for that matter - I need this job. Sue collects her bag from her newly refurbished office and we make our way back down the hallway towards the lifts. I think I could fit back in here, Ok so I don't know anyone but who cares, I could make new friends, I could start a-new, like being the new girl at school. This could work; it could really save my life working for Candy again. I walk beside Sue as if I might one day soon belong. We stride down the street and into the local restaurant like happy old times and it really doesn't take long for us to bond again. All the while, I know the true reason for contacting her and I feel awful about it, guilty too, but since it has been so long and Sue is always such fun, I try hard to push it to the back of my mind for a few hours so I can let my hair down a little. We are seated and are handed a menu each. "So let me tell you about the bitch before we get on
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to how things are with you." She says looking over her menu at me. "Yes, what's been going on? When did she start and why is she such a bitch?" I put my menu down to listen, agog. "Well, she joined Candy two years ago and has seriously cracked the whip let me tell you. We have to write reports on our clients and their orders, what we could be doing to get them to purchase more products, we have to have weekly one-to-ones with her to give her updates, not to mention the memos! She basically just gets kicks out of being a mean bitch to everyone." "Wow, she sounds..." "Like a bitch!" She interjects. "Yeah." I glance back at the menu. Shit, having serious second thoughts. "She was promoted to help 'save the sinking ship.'" She says wiggling her index fingers up and down as quote marks. "Candy was sinking?" "Yes, two years back, we all nearly lost our jobs. BigBoss-Man almost shut the company, there was some scandal about Candy having serious debt issues and he almost put it into liquidation." I flush as soon as she says the word debt. "Oh Gosh, so she..." I pause not wanting to offend
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her. "Yes, she saved the blasted sinking ship!" She replies rolling her eyes to the ceiling. "That doesn't give her the right to treat everyone like shit. Does it?" "No. Of course not." "Anyway, the main juice is that she's shagging the boss's son." She looks down at the menu nonchalantly but with a wicked grin on her face. "What?" "Mr. Carmichael's son. Well, she..." she says animatedly "was caught straddling him one night when they thought the offices were empty - weren't!" She nods with her lips pursed and her eyebrows raised. "Yep. It's true." She adds, seeing my surprised expression. "Legs wrapped around him on the photocopier like a two-bit harlot apparently!" She laughs. "Bet you've never seen the photocopier the same way since!" "No, I haven't!" We both laugh and the waitress approaches us to take our order. I know I can't really afford much so I pick the smallest and cheapest thing on the menu. "I'll have the Caesar Salad please." "I'll have the same." Sue says as the young girl scribbles it down. "Oh and a bottle of white wine please." "Sue, I'm fine." I interject, both hands stretched out.
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I can't pay for that, I can barely pay for my salad. I just won't have any. "No no, darling, I insist, it's my treat." She says. "For old times sake." The wine arrives and the waitress fills our glasses. I take a sip and for a moment there is silence between us as she sips hers too. I feel the urge to guzzle the whole glass down but fear that I will look like an alcoholic. "So?" She says lowering her glass. "What's new with you? How have you been and how is that strapping husband of yours?" Shit. My heart pounds and I feel the urge to cry. Do I lie? I should lie. "Everything is great." I nod. I have to bring it up, now is my only chance "Listen, Sue..." I pause and she looks back at me intently. "I was wondering?" "Yes?" "Well, you remember all those years ago... you said, "If you ever want your job back…"" she looks to the sky. Shit, she's forgotten hasn't she? And I'm a complete moron. "Yeeeees, I vaguely remember saying something like that." She tilts her head with a smile. "Well, I was wondering... could I?" I furrow my brow in anticipation for her answer without moving my eyes away from the small glass saltshaker. Finally I look up
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because I don't hear a reply. "Well of course you bloody can! Candy would love to have you back." She replies animatedly. "Really?" "Yes, really." She smacks my hand. "Is that why you called me earlier?" "Well, I wasn't sure if there was a vacancy, I..." "Listen honey, there is always a vacancy for you." I feel a sense of warmth come over me. This could be it; I could make everything right. "I need some good Sales Executives back on my team. Just one thing though?" "Yes?" I'm almost in tears; I can barely hold my excitement. "What is it?" "Well... is there something wrong? For you to want your job back. I mean… I’m just wondering if everything's really fine?" I look down at the white tablecloth, trace my fingernail around the fork and move it from left to right. Finally I pluck up the courage to say something, she is Sue after all, and no matter the time that has lapsed between us, she always was a great friend to me. "Filippo's gone." I don’t know what’s come over me, I normally wouldn’t say anything about something so personal… but the look in her eye makes me feel it’s safe to say what’s happened. "Gone?" She looks back at me in confusion. "What
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do you mean gone?" "Well, that's all I know... one day he left for work and never returned." Her face is one of shock, her eyes wide, her eyebrows knitted together. "Oh my God, Rosella, are you ok?" "Well, I haven't been. It's been really hard." My lip quivers but no, I won't break down. Not this time. I will be strong. "Oh honey." She pats my hand and I nod sadly. "Did you go to the Police?" "Yes, they said they couldn't help, said they believe it's a domestic issue." "What? So that's it? From what I can remember, he was totally besotted by you, he wouldn't just get up and leave you. Domestic!?" She tuts. "Someone could've abducted him for Christ's sake." "That's what I said! No one would listen... I even went to a Private Investigator." I can't believe I'm pouring this whole thing out. 'He's found nothing whatsoever." "Oh God." She shakes her head in despair. "You must've been going out of your mind?" "Yes, I was. But now I have to get on with my life. I have no choice... He..." I hesitate, "he left a pile of debts behind and I've had to move back home to my parents house because I ran out of money and couldn't afford the upkeep
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of the house. My best friend Eva loaned me some money to keep me from being arrested and going to court but now, it's up to me to get my life back in order." "Oh you poor thing, well of course you can come back to Candy and don't even worry about Ass-ford." She chuckles. "I'll fill you in on everything you need to know." "Thanks so much, Sue, you're a great friend." "You're welcome honey, anytime. There are some formalities we'll have to go through though... come into the office Friday we'll go through paperwork get you to meet everyone, settle you in and what not and then you can start fresh on Monday." I nod. "That'll give me time to break the news to Assford, get her on board." Three days, that gives me some time to settle back in at home. Anxiety spreads across my face. "What's up?" I shrug, "It's just... I want the job so badly of course... I'm a little rusty... " my voice trails off. "Don't worry about that, it's like riding a bike, I know once you get back in the saddle you'll be fine." "I hope so, I hope that Laura Ashford gives me a break!" "It's Ass-ford, darling, Ass-ford!" She says and we both giggle. Lunch is over and I'm super excited to tell Mamma
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and Papa my great news. I will call Eva on my hands-free on the way home. "See you tomorrow, 11:00am sharp." She instructs as she's about to head back in through the large heavy doors. "I'll be there." I say giving her a huge hug.

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10. Memoville
Friday morning, 10:50am - I'm early. I tap my leg furiously while I sit behind the steering wheel of my car. I'm parked. Been parked for more than twenty minutes. I look at my watch anxiously, I think now is a reasonable time to arrive. I finish gnawing at my nails before I jump out of the car, dressed in my navy suit. The pencil skirt could've been made a little wider, I can barely take a decent step and striding is most definitely out of the question. I totter across the street and through the heavy doors again; sweat beads forming on my brow. Big day. Big day. I not only have to make sure Sue knows she hasn't made a mistake by re-hiring me, but I have to impress Assford. Gosh, I better not slip up and call her that by mistake. "Morning Michelle." I leave the lift and see her behind her desk. "Oh, morning. What are you doing back 'ere?" She smiles inquisitively. "Think you might be seeing more of me." I smile. "Really?" She almost jumps in the air. "That's amazing news." Her face one of elation until it suddenly changes and she beckons me over as though she wants to whisper something, she cowers and comes close to my ear. "Have you heard about Assford yet?" She moves back and
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looks up at me from under her eyelashes. I frown and shrug; I'm not about to start a new job gossiping. "Bitch from hell." She says adamantly. "Shagging boss' son!" I gasp and remain wide-eyed and open mouthed for effect. "Yep, total psycho if you ask me, God knows what he sees in her." I see her face turn a little scarlet but decide it’s best not to address that at such an early stage in my new employment. Scandals can wait. "I better go." I say. "We can talk later." I tap her desk with my fingertips and wink at her. "Ok dolly-bird," she winks back and sniggers. "Watch you're back though!" I take small but fast steps towards Sue's office where I know she'll be waiting for me. People glance over at me as I walk, probably wondering who the new girl is and why she keeps hanging around the office. I smile shyly back at them, then spot Janice and wave, she rushes over. "I heard the news, sweetheart, congratulations." She hugs me. "Thanks." I smile. I'm anxious, what I really want to know is... "Does your boss know yet?" I ask before I can stop myself. "Rosella, everybody knows!" She giggles. "You're the talk of the Sales Department, Sue announced your return
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this morning." Shit. This piece of information makes me feel all the more nervous. I suppose that's why everyone was looking at me. "Said a member of the old sales team is returning and that things are going to change around here." Bollocks. This is bad. Very bad. The pressure is starting to make me feel sick. I have a feeling I'm going to fall very heavily, very quickly and flat on my face. My palms are sweating. "Oh gosh are you serious?" "Yes, deadly." She nods animatedly at me after tucking her mousey brown hair behind her ears. "Assford wants to meet you." I chuckle "You call your boss 'Assford'?" "Behind her back of course!" She snorts. "Everybody does. That is her name!" "When?" I ask, my heart thuds loudly under my rib cage. What if she quizzes me on something I don't know the answer to? "Think Sue's going to bring you in. Don't panic, her bark is worse than her bite." "Really?" I reply in a that's-not-what-I've-heard kind of manner. "Any tips?" "Don't stumble. Look directly at her when she is talking to you. Don't ask too many questions and NEVER put your hands in your pockets when in her presence." She
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throws out and I feel as though I should take notes. "Really?" I say again. Crap, I hate her already. She nods. "Shit. Gotta go." "Ok, thanks Jan, appreciate the heads up." Right, no stumbling, no questions, no pockets and look directly in face. Got it. I turn to knock on Sue's door. "Come in." I hear her say. Sue is behind her desk in her large puffy, new, polished leather chair with her eyes closed and the backs of her hands resting on its arms "Sue?" She doesn't reply. "Sue, are you Ok?" "I will be." She murmurs. "I'll be with you in a minute." I sit quietly and look around the room. It looks totally different to how I remember it, now covered in pale oak wood furnishings, once old, dark brown and tatty. Bookshelves filled with Candy Catalogues and brochures of our products to send to prospective clients. There’s a glowing sign behind her desk saying Candy, in neon pink. A picture of her and her daughter in a frame beside her phone (currently off the hook) and a desk lamp, something I remember her always requesting for her late nights at the office. With papers sprawled across her large desk, she sits still amongst the chaos for a few moments of silence. "Ok, I'm back." She says and I jump. "Are you Ok?" I ask again. "Yes, I just had to meditate for a moment, things
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were starting to get on top of me, my Yoga instructor told me to meditate whenever I feel stressed out." She looks around at the paperwork. "Does it work?" "What?" She asks as if she had no recollection of what she'd just said. "The meditation?" My brow furrows. "Oh. Sometimes." She shrugs. "Anyway, so... let's get you sorted." She throws me a pile of papers to look through. "Read, fill out, then sign. Hours are nine to five thirty with one hour lunch break, blah blah blah.” She waves her hands about, “Twenty days holiday excluding bank holidays, you know the drill... that Ok?" She says matter-of-factly. I nod. "Now, I have to bring you into meet Assford in a minute, when I told her we had an old member of Candy returning, she is very eager to ensure that you are aware of our new policies and up to date on the way we do things now." She rolls her eyes. "Hence the paperwork." I look at the pile I'm clutching in my hands. "I'll have to put you on the three month probationary period, darling, so you can prove yourself to her - I know you'll knock her socks off." God, I wish I knew. My head feels hot, I'm petrified I'm going to make a mistake and I haven't even started yet. Mantra: Rosella, you can do this, you done it before, you can do it again, I tell myself. "Let me show you to your desk and then
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we'll go in and meet her, that Ok?" She says again in a weird monotone voice. "That Ok." I reply and quickly stumble to correct myself. "I mean sure, that's fine." We get up and I carry the wad of paperwork with me. She escorts me over to one of the desks in the open plan area. There are four huddled together but are separated by blue partition screens shaped like waves so one side is low enough to peek over and see the other person. "Here we are." She says and I put my bag down on my chair. Three faces smile forcefully at me. "This is Sam, Ben and Jill." Sue introduces us, pointing out who is who; her eyes grow wide when Ben turns his face away. "This is Rosella." "Hi." I wave and they wave back. I brush my palms against my skirt feeling awkward. "Let's go in and see Laura now shall we?" She calls her by her first name this time. "Sure." I follow her away from the desk, leaving my things behind. No stumbling questions, no faces, no pockets and directly in hands. No faces? What?! Oh Shit, I’m a jumbled mess. I've got something wrong haven't I... What did Janice say again? No... No... Oooooh. Before I can think any more we are summoned in. I try to pick up pace and walk as fast as my skirt will allow into the room behind
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Sue. I feel like I'm running. Ugh! Why did I wear this today? "Hello Laura, this is Rosella Giordano our new Sales Executive and one of the original members of the Sales Team I was telling you about." She sounds firm and confident. Sue's pointy face looks sharp. Assford’s blonde hair and almost non-existent eyebrows look odd on her pale skin. Her grey eyes lined with long eyelashes. She looks like a porcelain doll. Tall and thin too. "Ah, Rosella." Assford stands and I move forward to shake her outstretched hand. "Pleasure". Firm grip. "Nice to meet you." I reply nervously. No questions... No staring directly at her? Shit. Shit. This could be crucial... This could make or break me if I do the wrong thing. Ugh! What the heck did Janice say? "I hope Susan has brought you up to speed on our new Candy Beauty & Cosmetic's Sales Strategies and Policies?" "Er... Ye... es, yes she's been giving me the run down of the new, very successful procedures Candy has put in place." I say. That was it - no stumbling – bollocks - I stumbled - oh no! Her eyes glare back at me. Calm. Calm and assertive Rosella. "Excellent, that's perfect." "I'd like to thank you for this opportunity. I loved
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working for Candy and I'm really grateful to be joining the team once again." "Well, Candy would like to welcome you back." She replies through slit eyes, unimpressed. She looks away like she’s too busy to keep looking at me. Oh God, she hates me. Before I know it I feel Sue tap my leg surreptitiously to leave. She backs out and then turns right at the last minute when she almost reaches the door. I copy Sue's every move; figure it's the only way I'll survive around here. Once out of Assford's office we are back in Sue's. "Oh my good Lord above." I say in gratitude that the moment I was dreading with all my might is finally over. "What the bloody-hell was the backing away bit at the end all about?" "She doesn't like you to turn your back on her." "Are you serious? So we have back out of the door like servants?" "Basically darling, yes." She turns to her very own coffee machine against the wall in her office (that's how much of an addict she is) and begins to pour a cup. "That's just bloody ridiculous." I tut. "Watch out, she'll have your eyes out if you're not careful." "What?" I rush my fingertips to my eyes to protect
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them. "Just don't put a foot wrong for a while, do what you do best, darling. That Ok?" She says and I think I might cry. I don't know what will happen when I'm put in front of a bunch of people, looking on at me, agog. I might crumble, what if I forget what to say? What if I'm crap and I can't remember what to do? Shut the hell up Rosella, first you are prepared to beg for the job (even though begging wasn't necessary) and then you moan when you get it? You ungrateful bitch. Pull yourself together. Harsh words but true, I tell myself. Sitting here, my body shudders with fear, my fists clench and my knuckles white as I grip the chair. I feel my breath get lost on the way to my lungs, a swelling in my throat... I must get through this, just like I have everything else.

Back at my desk I leaf through all the papers and the Candy manual Sue gave me earlier. There is just so much to remember, so many rules and things to do that we never did before: send daily reports, weekly reports, monthly reports. The main way that employees communicate is via memo nowadays. The staff are informed of any changes, any issues and of any problems within the company that need to be addressed, all via a memo. There is a paragraph in the manual about it, its title: Take The Memo Seriously.
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Memos are to be taken with as much urgency as when something is verbalised to you. It is your responsibility to take immediate action in the tasks that are being asked of you in these Memos. You should make a note of all changes so that you are able to keep abreast of any new policies that might be put into place by Candy Beauty & Cosmetics. If these Memos are not adhered to it could lead to disciplinary action. I cannot express the importance or the severity of you failing to comply with this necessary protocol. Normally, Memos are sent via email and you are asked to reply to each and every one to ensure that we, the Management, understand you have read and agreed to its contents, this will act as proof should you breech it and it will stand against you should disciplinary action be put into effect. Bugger me; there really are new policies - my mouth gaping as I continue to read. It’s like blimin’ Memoville around here! We used to get Memos about the Christmas Party or Games Day, where the office would have "bonding time" and go on team building nights out. I guess that's all changed now. I immediately feel the urge to check for emails but then remember I don't even have an email account set up yet and so I breathe a sigh of relief. Plus my official day of starting is really Monday. "Hello, you must be Rosella?" A tall, brown haired,
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lanky man stares down at me. His floppy hair almost in his eyes, he's sort of Hugh Grant-ish looking, although doesn't seem as charming. His pale blue shirt sits scruffily under a navy v-neck jumper, I can tell it hasn’t been ironed, and his some black slacks need the hems seeing to. He puts his hands in his pockets and waits for me to respond. "Yes." I say, wondering what he wants "That's me." "I'm Dan the I.T. man, I've come to sort you out with passwords and all that groovy stuff for your computer and email account." Groovy?! "Right." I get up out of my chair to allow him to sit. He does and he wheels himself in, closer to the computer. Jill who sits in at the desk beside me smiles at me through closed lips and squinting eyes. She raises her eyebrows while she talks on the phone with it pressed up against her cheek. I smile back. Ben and Sam across in the other direction tap away on their keyboards in full concentration. I stand awkwardly behind Dan as he flicks from screen to screen. "All done." He jumps from my chair and claps his hands in satisfaction. "You're good to go-go!" He sings like ‘before you go-go’ in that Wham song. "Oh great, thanks, that was fast." I smile enthusiastically. "I've written down your password here." He says and points to the yellow post-it note stuck to the desk. "And your
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email account is set up too." "Thanks." I say again. A chorus of pings sound from my computer and we both look at each other in surprise. "You've got mail." He says, pointing at me cheesily and then he nods as he leaves. "Already?" Dan is too far to hear me. "I've just got here!" I sniff a chuckle and look around; no one on my pod even bats and eyelid in my direction. I sit back down and pull myself in by the edge of my desk. I click onto my email account and see three emails waiting to be read in my inbox. My eyes almost bulge when I realise what they are. Bloody memos. My eyes run over the subject titles: Eating At Your Desk. Incoming Calls. And the last: Your Parking Spot Park Straight Or Lose it! I click on the first one. To: All Candy Staff From: Janice Goodman PA to Laura Ashford Re: Staff Memo - Eating At Your Desk Staff Members, Eating at your desk is now forbidden. Yes, forbidden. When clients come in and witness Candy's staff members stuffing
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their faces with chocolate eclairs or double raspberry cheesecake, it looks unprofessional. If you wish to eat, use the break-out area. I am making this a standard rule from now on. Please abide by this new policy or severe action will be taken. As always reply to this email to confirm you have read and understood this Memo. L.Ashford, Managing Director of Candy Beauty & Cosmetics **** To: All Candy Staff From: Janice Goodman PA to Laura Ashford Re: Staff Memo - Incoming Calls Staff Members, I find it rather difficult to comprehend how you can be working when you are on personal phone calls all the time. I would like you to keep these calls down to an absolute minimum, i.e, emergencies only! No longer will I accept a ten minute phone call to your better half about what you're planning to cook for dinner or watch on TV tonight. This
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unacceptable behaviour.. Please abide by this new policy or severe action will be taken. As always reply to this email to confirm you have read and understood this Memo. L.Ashford, Managing Director of Candy Beauty & Cosmetics Blimey! Although she may have a point, it's a bit harsh! No eating at your desk... Can we drink at least? Jeez, it seems like if you sneeze at the wrong time she will write a memo about it. I click on the last Memo. To: All Candy Staff From: Janice Goodman PA to Laura Ashford Re: Staff Memo - Your Parking Spot - Park Straight Or Lose It! Staff Members, This is the third time in two weeks that I am having difficulty parking my car because others have inconsiderately parked in their spot crookedly leaving me with minimal room manoeuvre. Needless to say, I am not happy and if I have to do
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another twenty-five point turn to get into my parking spot, there will be severe consequences. Please abide by this new policy or severe action will be taken. As always reply to this email to confirm you have read and understood this Memo. L.Ashford, Managing Director of Candy Beauty & Cosmetics I look around the office in shock. She really is a stuck up bitch! Can we breathe at least? I mean, three Memos in one day, about things that could potentially be passed on, word of mouth... Seems to me that one person does the deed and perhaps abuses it and everyone gets the bollocking. I panic wondering whether I've parked my car straight in the parking spot Sue gave me. Why do I feel like I want a cigarette when I don't even smoke? Not since high school anyway! "Excuse me?" I jump out of my daydream and see Jill's face peering over the partition. "Hi, can I borrow your stapler please?" "Yes of course." I reach towards my desk tidy and hand it to her. "Thanks." She says but doesn't leave. "So... you
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enjoying it so far?" She asks seeing my desk laden with papers as I flick through the manual. I finally feel like I'm not invisible anymore. "Well my official start date is Monday but yes, it's great... changed a lot." I look down not wanting to reveal that it's all a bit too much for me. That I truly don't know if I can do this and how badly I feel out of my comfort zone. Floods of memories of Filippo return to my mind, he got me into this mess, if it wasn't for him I wouldn't be here now. I fight to shake it off. "Yes, so I've heard... there aren't that many people left from when you worked here are there?" "No, everyone's new to me." I shrug. "Well except for Sue, Janice and a few other faces I remember." She nods sympathetically. "Sue's great." "Yeah." I look towards her office fondly. The door is closed but I can see her through the glass sitting at her desk surrounded by piles of paper with her eyes closed again and her palms facing upwards. Her index fingers and thumbs touching and her forearms rest on the chair's arms meditating again. "My only advice is..." I swing back round to Jill and it's then that I really notice her features; it’s like her eyes are almost too close together - I knew there was something odd
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about her when I first saw her but I couldn't put my finger on it. Her strong jaw line and her thin lips makes me think of my old gym teacher in middle school, "make sure you get your sales reports in on time for the weekly meetings." She nods warningly, "Otherwise..." She pauses "guts for garters!" She says swinging her thumb towards Assford's office. "Oh right. I will." I swallow hard. Shit, how can I get these reports done when I have no bloody idea what I'm doing? I want to cry. Jill moves back to her desk. I spend my lunch time eating in the break out area after picking up a sandwich from a local deli, I spent most of the time on the phone to Eva explaining the Memo situation, she told me to tell them to shove the Memos where the sun doesn't shine and insisted we go for cocktails. I told her I'd love to. Back at my desk, organising the contacts in the Rolodex, Sue bursts out of her office. "Sales meeting, five minutes." She says loudly as she walks past our pod. "Oh, Rosella, just stay for this then you can go." "Ok sure." I look at my watch, it's 2pm, I'm still reading through this manual and all my nails have been torn off by my teeth. I hope Sue doesn't make me stand up and introduce myself. I've got this sudden urge to pee. Oh God.
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Oh God. Five minutes is up and we all have to move to the Board Room. All the Sales Exec's, that's me, Jill, Ben and Sam, get up and all the Account Managers make their way there. Pulling down the jacket of my suit, which seems to have bunched up by my waist, I totter down the hallway following the rest of the posse clutching a notepad and pencil in my hand. My heart pumps hard in my chest, my breath feels short and shallow and my mouth is like the Mojave. I reach the door behind Jill, who holds it open for me to walk though. "Thanks." I whisper as we enter the quiet room, now filling up with staff tittering amongst themselves. I don't see Assford anywhere, thank God. "Right everyone." Sue starts and everyone shuffles around to quickly find a seat. I plonk myself down near the back so I can hide behind everyone. "I've gathered you all here today to welcome a new member to our team." Oh CRAP. "Rosella, where are you?" Everyone looks around at me while I sink in to my chair, wanting the ground to open up and swallow me. "Hello Sue, I'm here... over here." I stand up gingerly with my hand in the air. "Ah, there you are."
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"Everyone, this is Rosella Giordano, she used to work for Candy four years ago and I'd like to welcome her back to the team, let's give her a warm welcome now com' on." Everyone claps and I feel my face flush with embarrassment. "Thanks everyone." I put my hand up in a waving fashion and hope that they just stop and we can move on. "Rosella, come up here and introduce yourself." Oh shit. shit. shit. shit. shit. shit. I gingerly make my way to the front, weaving through the chairs with all these faces gawping at me, agog. For a moment I am frozen with fear but I force myself to speak. "Hi everyone, I'm Rosella." I say, feeling shy and reserved. "I used to work for Candy four years ago as Sue just mentioned and I decided to...erm..." I pause, what can I say? I decided to ask for my old job back because… what can I say? "...return to Candy because I… I loved it so much." A few faces smile at me. "Although I'm a little rusty so I'll be counting on you all to help me find my feet again... it's all about team work isn't it Sue?" I look over to her; she knits her brow at me and looks around. She's going to hate me isn't she? She vouched for me and she put her good name on the line for me and I'm letting her down, I'm failing her, I'm embarrassing her. "Anyway," I try to recover "I can't wait to get to know you all and get really
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stuck in to my job again." Everyone claps, I've no idea why, I didn't say anything worth clapping for. "Thanks," I reply and return to my seat hoping I don't trip over my stupid, pathetic self on the way. Being the new girl sucks big hairy ones and everyone is looking at me.

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11. Tiramisu & Zeppole & Cannoli Oh My!
After the meeting, at my desk again, I feel Jill's wonky eyes burning into my head, I quickly shoot round and catch her staring. "Oh." I say as if I hadn’t felt them blistering my skin. "Can I help you with anything? Do you need to borrow the stapler?" I ask innocently. "No thanks, I was just wondering…” She pauses and looks into the space beside my face. Then back at me, “why did you really come back here? You do realise that Assford is a complete bitch and makes everyone's life hell?" She looks at me, agog. I swallow hard. "Erm." Blimey, a little forward don’t you think? "Well, I… I needed a job." I decide that's a good enough excuse and an honest one. "You must've been desperate to come back here!" "I suppose I was desperate then." I shrug. And I was. "It is nice to have another woman on the team though... these guys are right pricks at times." Her voice goes into a hard whisper so they can't hear her over the partition. "Really?" Like I hadn't noticed that they've totally ignored me since I arrived. Arseholes.
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"Yeah, especially him." She points surreptitiously at Ben. "Moody bastard." She mouths, shaking her head. "Monday you're shadowing me, aren't you? Think Sue wanted to give you a day to settle in and meet everyone… Plus, Bitchface wanted to make sure you knew the ropes." She rolls her dodgy eyes. "That's great." I feel some of my nervous tension leave me. Thank God.

On my way home the traffic begins to piss me off while I try hard not to swear at other drivers whilst pulling strange positions in the driver’s seat of my car to relieve my cramping muscles. I decide to call Eva again for company. "I was wondering when I was going to hear from you next." She says as she answers. "What? I was just speaking to you four hours ago!" I chuckle. "Yes but I'm used to speaking to you multiple times in a day." "This is multiple, it's the second time today! Stop being needy." "Oh shut up! Are you feeling better now?" "Yes, except this traffic is a huge pain in my
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backside." "Oh darling, must you work? Is all this worth it?" "Eva, I have no choice, please stop saying that." My voice turns a little sour. "I just want you to be happy that's all." She says and I sigh, knowing for sure that she does. "What are you doing later?" "Painting my nails, why?" She replies. "Come over to the house, I know Mamma and Papa would love to see you." "Oh I'd love to see them." I can hear the excitement in her voice. "What time?" "About 7:30pm?" "Perfect, I'll be there." I'm looking forward to seeing Eva tonight; it has been over a week since I saw her last. I pull up outside the house and make my way to the front door holding my bag in one hand and my keys in the other. My feet are sore and throb angrily at me for choosing these shoes this morning. I'm just glad that today is over. I open the door to the warm house and step in. "I'm home." I dump my bag and kick my shoes off. "Ciao Mamma." I reach the kitchen and see her by the stove hovering over a large round object under a blanket.
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Suddenly a huge rush of delight floods over me and I've forgotten how much my feet ache... I waddle as fast as I can over to her and the blanket and lift it slightly, peering underneath into the darkness. "Ciao Figlia." She bends to kiss me on the cheek and smacks my hand away from the blanket playfully. "Mamma… is that… is that pizza dough? Are we making pizza tonight?" I’m transported back to when I was nine years old! I want to jump for joy, I can hardly remember the last time I made homemade pizza. When I was a child I used to watch Mamma mix the ingredients until they were a soft dough and then put it into an oiled bowl, cover it with a blanket and set it in the warmest place in the kitchen - which was always near the oven - where the sun shone through the window hitting the work top. That’s where the magic happened. I would wait and wait and wait till I could see it had doubled in size and then I'd shout to Mamma to tell her when the dough was finally ready. We'd set out to make the most delicious pizza the world had ever known, or at least, I had ever known! There is nothing like Mamma's homemade pizza baking in the oven, the smell of warm bread would have me salivating. "Yes, sta sera facciamo la pizza." She says contently, knowing she has made my day. I hug her tightly as the memories gush through me. "You rememba wot to do?"
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She winks at me. "Sort of." I say, shrugging with shame, doubt all over my face. "I think so." I can hardly breathe I'm so excited. I could cry, silly really… it’s only pizza. I just can't contain my emotion, but most of all I cannot wait to taste Mamma's pizza again. "This is perfect." I say wiping my watery eyes. "Eva's coming over later too." "Ohhh dat's a-love-a-ly, we have a good-a-time." I rush upstairs to change out of my suit and into some comfy bottoms and a jumper. Out of the blue, I hear music… as I'm pulling my hair into a ponytail I furrow my brow in confusion…. Music? What's that? Where could it be coming from? Is it downstairs? It can't be. I open my bedroom door and lean over the banister to listen. Yes, it is... it's coming from the living room, it’s a Tarrantella. I push my feet into my slippers quickly and dash down the stairs. I arrive at the living room door and push it open, Papá is in there in his dark blue corduroy trousers and grey jumper, his glasses pushed up on top of his head and his arms in the air as though he's dancing with someone. He steps from left to right, right to left, swaying in time to the music. Once he spots me in the doorway grinning at him, he winks at me. "Mamma," I call with laughter in my voice. "look at Papá, Ma, come quickly." Mamma rushes over, immediately
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worried that something terrible has happened, until she sees him dancing. She smacks my arm playfully and rushes in to join him, singing as she goes. I laugh so hard my eyes fill with tears again as they sway around the room, hopping left to right, right to left with a little bounce. I'd forgotten what great dancers they were. I'd forgotten what dancing a Tarrantella even looked like. I watch as they glide around the living room, they look so happy and as in love as they ever were. They laugh while I wipe my stained cheeks. I'm filled with happiness for the first time in the longest time, I'm bursting with joyous memories of being a child, of growing up in this house, of being part of such a wonderful family, of my culture. "Cam on Rosella, balla con tuo Papá." Mamma says letting go of his hands. "No, no, I can't remember how." I pull away as she tries to get me to dance. "Cam on, who look? Dai vieni." She beckons me over and I walk dragging my feet behind me. "Reddy?" Papá looks at me while I'm in the hold. "GO!" He shouts and then begins to skip me around the coffee table like we’re children, pretending to be galloping horses. I laugh so hard my cheeks ache; I've never seen him so animated and so happy. "Okay – ztop!" He commands and stops with me in the hold again, waiting to catch his
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breath and to surprise me. "GO!" He yelps once more and we go skipping around the table, he pulls my arm away and spins me around with the other hand... Mamma looks on proudly as the steps come to me. I remember how to do it, I remember! I'm out of breath, so is Papá but we're having so much fun I don't want this to ever end… this feeling. I've missed them so much, missed my life the way it was. I think that perhaps things are better this way, without Fillipo but then I quickly remove the thought guiltily from my mind. Just as we stop to catch our breaths back, the doorbell plays its lovely tune. It's Eva. From the living room I hear Mamma talking very animatedly and I walk to the doorway to see them hugging. Mamma moves back and clasps Eva's face between her palms, "come sei bella." She says and Eva understands her, her eyes filling with emotion. Papá, peers around my shoulder and sees them. Mamma was like a second mother to Eva and Papá like the father she never had...but it's been a while since she's been over. Quite a while. Papá and I walk into the hallway and he throws his arms around Eva too, they stand laughing and nattering about nothing in particular until we move towards the kitchen, the music still playing out of the huge hi-fi in the living room.

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Mamma prepares the dough for the pasta and sprinkles flour over the clean table, then she pulls the huge lump of dough into five separate pieces and kneads each one on the floured work top for a few seconds, making each one a small ball, then she sets them aside. She takes the first one and rolls it out, then pushes it into a pan so the edges meet edges and drizzles olive oil over it, spreading it around. Once that's done I take it and pour two ladles of ragu over the top of it and spread it out with the belly of the spoon to cover the base of the pizza before handing it to Eva. Eva sprinkles the cubes of mozzarella on and each of the other toppings generously over the sauce and puts it to one side until all five are done. Mamma puts the first three into the oven and within five minutes the house fills with the delicious smell that only Mamma's pizza could bring. We talk and laugh over a glass of red wine at the dinner table, waiting for the pizza to be cooked. Somehow now, my day doesn't seem as bad as it did a few hours ago. "Tomorro facciamo un bel Tiramisú." Mamma says as she wipes her hands on the cloth tucked into her apron. "Ohhh can I come over tomorrow too?" Eva asks, her eyes wide with envy, one never wants to miss Mamma making her specialty. "Ovo-cours-a." Mamma's hands fly in the air as her
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face lights up, "Aye lav to cook for my-a girls again-a." "Mmmm Mamma, I haven't tasted your Tiramisú for years." My mouth salivates. Mamma told me Tiramisú (which means 'pick me up') is the way to a man's heart. She made it for Papá on their first date and he fell head over heels for it... and for her! She says it has to be made with patience and love or it won't come out right. Perhaps it's what was missing in my marriage? "Aye no." Her face looks sad and I feel a pang of guilt but more of regret for all the precious moments I've missed out on. "Domani facciamo anche le zeppole e i cannoli." "Really? Cannoli too? I can't wait." I reply animatedly. I feel as though I'm becoming the person I was, like I'm free to be who I really am again and this time, I'm never letting it go, not for anyone. **** It's Saturday morning and I can smell delicious coffee pouring through the cracks of my door, I love waking up in my old room, in my old house. I lay still staring at the half moons in the artex ceiling as every morning, then I remember... today is baking day and I bolt upright, excited to re-learn all that I've foolishly forgotten... I rush downstairs
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and see Mamma making Papá's espresso in her frilly apron. I kiss her good morning and join Papá at the kitchen table. "Morning." I kiss his cheek. "Mornee." He replies whilst he flicks through a thin brochure of gadgets. He closes it a few moments later. "You neva tell me a-wot appen a-yestaday at a-woork. You enjoya?" It's true, we didn't really have time to talk about what happened, what with all the excitement... My heart flutters nervously at the thought of work. "I just don't know." I shake my head and shrug, my heart feeling heavy with worry. "You don-no?" Papá looks at Mamma, who looks worried. "Eh, why-a? Wot appen?" "Well nothing happened, I'm just not sure I can do it anymore... so many things have changed at Candy and I'm..." I pause. "I'm a little scared." "You no be a-scare, you do-a your-a best-a okay?" His eyes look back at me with worry "dats all-a you can-a do." I nod and try to shake off my nerves; I figure it's best to put it to the back of my mind for the time being. The doorbell sounds and I wonder if that is Eva already. She walks in after Mamma, dressed and ready for bake action. "Good Morning, darlings." She says energetically,
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kissing me and Papá. "I've brought my very own apron." She laughs and holds it out. "You?! You've got an apron?" I ask in shock as I sip my coffee. "No, I just bought one on my way over, M&S!" We all chuckle and Papá's shoulders move up and down as the lines around his eyes deepen with his smile. "Sit down and have some breakfast." I tell her and she sits next to Papá and in front of her sits a plate of cornetti alla crema, she grabs one and begins to munch on it while Mamma makes her a coffee. **** Mamma hands me the bowl and I fold the Mascarpone, adds egg yokes and the sugar until it’s all smooth and creamy looking. I’m sending out love vibrations while I do so. "De secret iz in-a de cream." She says with a wink. While this blends on a medium speed and Eva talks over the whirring noise, Mamma beats the egg whites till they are stiff peaks. Once done, she adds them to my mixture and I fold them together, again, with love vibrations. The coffee pours out of the machine into two espresso cups sitting side by side under the spouts and the aroma of Lavazza, Crema e Gusto
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fills the kitchen once again. We pour it into a flat dish to cool and add sugar and Sambuca. Eva and I get ready to dunk the Lady Fingers into it using our holed spatulas. I can hardly wait to dunk. It's turning into a masterpiece; cream, ladyfinger biscuits dipped in sweet coffee and them more cream, followed by more biscuits... it goes on and on and on until we reach the top of the dish and when we do, Eva and I feel as though we've accomplished something. We examine the sides of the see-through dish, our eyeballs so close they might touch the glass. Impressed by our layers neatly showing, we nod at each other in agreement of our success. We did it and it’s like a work of art, it is the Mona Lisa of Tiramisus! Before we are allowed to sieve cocoa powder over the top and serve, we must put it in the fridge for a few hours where the coffee has time to soak into the biscuits. It’s at this time that the magic happens, when everything finds it’s place and settles into every nook and cranny. We wait. I remember only ever having Zeppole and Cannoli on special occasions growing up, usually around Christmas time or Easter when we had Struffoli and Panettone amongst other traditional things. I loved them, still do. Mamma told me that she used to have Zeppole when she was a girl in
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Italy, celebrating Father's Day, also St Joseph's Day (La Festa di San Giuseppe) and how Nonna used to gather her and my Aunties (her sisters) in the kitchen where they would make them, just like we did when I was young. I think back to going to visit Nonna when she was alive and her taking me to the coffee shop that had the long glass display cabinets full of delicious cakes, scrumptious delights dipped in chocolate and sweet cakes with strawberries on the top in tiny colourful, pleated paper cups and drizzles in perfect vanilla or chocolate icing. They were waiting to be eaten. Each afternoon we were there, Nonna would take me to café bar in my red coat with black buttoms; it was our favourite place to go, just her and I. Mamma makes a well in the flour on the big brown dough board on the table and adds the ingredients, she squeezes the cooked potato through a masher and it plops onto the other ingredients, adds salt and stirs the yeast in with her fingertips. She takes her time to knead everything into a soft dough and finally slaps the large ball onto the table. Hard - three times. We all roll out small pieces of dough into sausage shapes and join each end together so they make a circle. We set them aside until we have used up all the dough and covered the whole of the kitchen table. Mamma tells us to cover them with clean cloths and leave
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them for two hours. After cleaning up a little while we wait for the Zeppole dough to rise, Mamma prepares the dough for the Cannoli, ready for us to roll out and cut into squares so we can wrap them around the metal rods and fry them. Once it's all prepared we decide to sit and have a quick break. "So did I tell you about the boss' son shagging Assford?" I ask Eva while she dunks one of Mamma's biscuit into her cup of tea "NO!" She almost chokes while her eyes bulge. "How could you leave out the most important part of your day there?" She wipes her lips. "Well, I can't be certain but it's definitely a rumour floating around the office, I'm sure she thinks it's a secret but it's not, everyone knows!" "What's he look like? Is he a dish?" "I don't know, I've not met him yet." I say pulling out the chair beside her. Mamma pulls out the ricotta for the Cannoli. "Apparently they were caught at it in the office when they thought it was empty." She snorts a chuckle. "Wow that is juicy gossip." She dunks another biscuit. "I'm surprised you can keep a straight face around her." "Well I've only met her the once. I suppose it does
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make her more human! She’s like a robot or something. Emotionless." I chew down another along with her. "Cam-on chil-dre, we need-a to fry-a le Zeppole nowa." Mamma interjects our conversation. "Ok, here I come." I put my mug on the side and rush to the tray of swollen, uncooked Zeppole. The oil ready and hot in the pan, Mamma tests it to make sure by throwing in a tiny piece of dough and little bubbles immediately around it's edges where it is cooking. It's ready. I pick up one of the Zeppole and place it into the oil with a spatula and then another, and one more. I watch them fry and ask Mamma when to turn them, since when I was young Mamma always used to do this part incase the oil splashed. "Now-a." She says and I follow her instructions. Finally I pull out my three golden Zeppole and dip each one in sugar, then put them on the tray beside Eva. "Yay, I've made Zeppole again!" I high five Eva and Mamma. "Let me try now." Eva pushes me out of the way with her hip and steals the spatula from my hand. "Heyyyy!" I protest. "What? You live here - I need all the practise I can get, now back off, I've got a spatula in my hand and I'm not
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afraid to use it!" She laughs and Mamma joins her. The smells coming out of the kitchen are divine, Papá sneaks in to pinch a freshly cooked Zeppole and I hand him a piece of kitchen towel with it. "Papá, vuoi un cafe?" I ask and he looks back at me in shock. I don't think I've spoken Italian to either Mamma or Papá in years. He looks at Mamma who smiles proudly at me. Eva turns her back on her Zeppole fizzing and frying to watch. "What?" I ask and everyone quickly resumes their positions. "Si, per favore." He replies, he turns to walk back into the living room with a grin that reaches ear to ear. I think I might have made his day.

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12.  The  Presenta.on
It’s my first presentation. I'd be lying if I said I was absolutely fine with it; totally ready. I should be ready, I should know all of this... not only did I used to be one of the top Sales Executives on Candy's sales force, but I shadowed Jill all last week, I watched for her techniques, I listened, took notes even. I just don't think anything can prepare you for standing in front of a crowd of agog onlookers, waiting to hear what you have to say... nothing, except actually doing it. I've practised in front of the mirror at home, I even had Mamma and Papa sit down and watch a fake presentation on Candy's Ribbon Lashes Mascara - it's part of their Christmas Collection. They had no idea what I was talking about half the time, but they nodded and smiled like good parents do. This has to go right, no exceptions. I have far too many people counting on me, far too many people to impress and far too many people watching me, well, one in particular - Assford. I'm pitching to a prospective client, Kemble & Kole, so it's mega important that I win this new business. I've memorised all the products in the collection; there is the Snowflake eye shadow trio, Cocoa, Biscuit and Vanilla shades. Cinnamon Swirl lip gloss, Santa's Helper, which is

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the concealer kit that comes in a beautifully packaged box. Sticky Toffee Pudding and Sweet Cherry - the luscious lipsticks. Then Frosted glosses are available in a range of undertones - pinks, beiges and reds. Peachy Keen and Butterscotch Brulee cheek balms. Then they have the luxurious, Limited Edition Body care range: Candy Rose bubble bath, body scrub and polish, all in a little gold pouch and wrapped up in a pretty satin bow. With around three weeks till Christmas, it is vital that I sell these products; Assford will kill me if I don't. And from what I've heard, she doesn't hand out chances willy-nilly so I'd better get it right. I look over my slides again and again, mouthing the presentation as I think it over and flick through. Jill pops her head over the partition in my line of vision and it distracts me "Don't worry, you'll be fine." She says in a whisper and I get a flutter of nerves rush through my body again. "What if I freeze?" I ask, looking around to make sure no one can see or hear my insecurities. "What if I forget what to say?" I'm beginning to sound desperate. "Then make it up! Anyway, you won't forget, you've gone over this a thousand times, you could probably do it in your sleep." She chuckles and sits back down, disappearing from sight. Yes, she's right; I've rehearsed this all week. I can do it. I can do it.
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Six people face forward at the pull down projector screen; I see them through the glass as I approach the boardroom. I'd set the room up and checked my Powerpoint presentation worked prior to their arrival. I placed the collection on display so that I may demonstrate the products while talking. Before each person sits a large gold pouch with a selection of the range inside. I also placed Candy brochures on the table. In my palm, my USB stick with my Powerpoint presentation on it. Sue loved it when I showed her. I almost want to run the other way, out the door, down the stairs and to my car and just drive all the way home, escape from this whole thing. My palms sweat with the pressure and I can literally feel my heart beat in my throat but I can't leave. I have to go in and just do it. Bite the bullet, take the bull by the balls… or horns… whichever, although I think the horns would be better. "Hello everyone, thank you so much for coming to Candy Beauty & Cosmetics today." Good Rosella. Good intro. Calm. Be calm. Breathe. Breathe. I place my notepad down and smile at all the faces looking back at me. "Welcome, we have a wonderfully exciting new limited edition, it’s actually our Christmas Collection I’m going to present to you today. Along with some of Candy's
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bestselling products." I say and as if the timing couldn't have been any more perfect, the door opens and Michelle the Receptionist walks in with a tray holding two pots (tea and coffee), cups and saucers, a milk jug, a sugar pot, and a plate of fancy biscuits from M&S. I hear people ooh and ahh in delight as she puts the tray down so they can help themselves. "Ok, let's get started shall we." I clap my hands, my mouth feels dry and I'm shaking like a leaf, God I wish this suit had pockets, I don’t know what to do with my Italian waving hands! I reach for my pen for something to hold. "So, you may be asking, why Candy?" I take a few steps while I read the slides rigidly as they pop up on the screen. "Before I show you the new Christmas Collection, let me just tell you that Candy's skincare range was established on the promise that good skin care is achievable by an easy skin regime." I click for the next slide. "And our cosmetics are a luscious selection of exotic flavours and scents that will ignite your senses while enticing your mind. We have no harsh chemicals in our products, no alcohol, thickeners or fillers and we do not test on animals." They tilt their heads with interest. I click for the next slide, reading each of them like a robot. I click again, harder this time since the last time I clicked the slide didn't change. Shit.
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Click. Click. Click. I'm clicking and nothing is happening. "Err, sorry everyone, it appears...” my voice trails off as panic sets in. Oh no. No. This cannot be happening, I checked everything beforehand. NO. NO. NO. NOOOOOOOOO. My breath becomes shallow, my face must be scarlet by now, it's on fire. People are looking around and making frustrated noises, whispering to their colleagues, probably about how unprofessional this is... Why me? Why now? They're all probably saying that if Candy can't get staff to perform good presentations, what are the chances of us doing good business? I rush over to the computer, crouch down and start pressing buttons, wiggling wires that I probably shouldn't be, hoping that something will make it work again. I can't do this without my slides. I need my slides. Please work. Please work. I turn to the clients and muster a smile, one that is supposed to mean I have this under control and that it will all be up and running in a minute, although my raised eyebrows and panic stricken face are probably proof that I don't and that it won’t. Suddenly the computer makes a buzzing noise and the screen goes blank. Shit. I'm dead meat. "Err." I stand up and face my audience, my hair dishevelled, "I'm terribly sorry folks, it seems we've had some
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technical problems." My heart pounds frantically in my chest. I think I might pass out. Sue is going to kill me and Assford will feed my body parts to ravenous wild dogs. "Do you need the slides to continue?" A snotty bitch asks. Of course I need the bloody slides woman, I can't remember a damn thing. Shit. Shit. Shit. I just want to cry. I try to stay calm looking and I swallow hard before I reply "No, of course I don't need the slides, but they were a good visual aid." I smile falsely. Bollocks, I really do need the slides. My mind is blank. Totally blank. It's at this very moment, the moment when I am anxiously swallowing uncontrollably, my mouth dry - even sucking the insides of my cheeks doesn't muster up any saliva - my head pounding with the undeniable, brutal truth and my palms dripping with sweat, that I realise that there is only one way this presentation is going to go and that is downhill. I tuck my hair behind my ears and begin searching my mind for any memory of the slides. I squint hard to try to force my brain not to fail me. "We here at Candy are prepared to offer a lot more than other leading cosmetic companies." I try… but that wasn't even on a slide! I'm thrown by the disappointed looks on their faces. "We can have the products you require shipped out to you within forty eight hours... which comes in handy when you’ve run out of your bestselling products." Also not on a slide. I try to laugh. Oh shit, this isn't
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working, not even in the slightest. I'm crashing. I'm burning. I’m freaking out right now. I look up at the big round clock on the wall, ticking away but not fast enough. I crack my knuckles as I try hard to think of a solution. "Would anyone like any tea or coffee?" I suggest like a waitress with my hands fanned out at the tray of jugs and crockery. "We can mingle and..." I pause and wave my fingers about... and what? And what Rosella? "drink tea!" I throw my head back a little and laugh pathetically, attempting to break the silence but not one of the moody bitches laughs with me. This is going to get back to Assford; she's going to fire me on the spot. What the hell am I doing here? "Will you all excuse me for a moment? I'll be right back, in the meantime have a look at our Christmas Collection in the gold pouches in front of you." I say as I make my way to the door. I have to leave the room before I breakdown in public. I head straight to the ladies toilets and push the door open so hard it bashes again the tiled wall behind it. A tile cracks. UGH, CRAP! I'm useless, I'm bloody useless and I'm a waste of space not to mention SHIT at my job and now I've gone and cracked the bloody tile. I am officially having a melt down. I push open a cubicle door and sit down on the toilet with the lid down. I rock myself and sniffle into some toilet paper, then dab around my eyes. What was I thinking… that I could just
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come back here after all these years in the middle of a life crisis and that I'd be able to do this? Who the hell do I think I am? I can't do this. I must return to the boardroom and apologise profusely, I'll tell them the truth, that I'm only just returning to Candy and that it's my first presentation in years... they'll understand won't they? Surely they'll be able to empathise. I wipe my tear stained cheeks, blot my lips together and flick my hair about a bit... I don't want to look like I'm a blubbering mess. Pulling the door open, I leave the toilets practising what I'll say... over and over. I’m sorry, I’m sorry I’m sorry. But as I reach the boardroom, panic sets in once again and my face feels as though it's on fire. No. No! It can't be, how the... SHIT. The room is empty. I stamp around on the stop out of sheer frustration. Kemble & Kole have left the building. Holy crap I'm in deep shit. The deepest of the deepest shit I've ever been in. Well perhaps not ever, but it's pretty deep. I rush to the Reception. "Michelle? Michelle?" I call and she pops her head up from behind the desk. "Hi Rosella." She looks back at me with a worried look on her face. "I tried to stop them." "They just left?" "Yes." She purses her lips, "one after the other, bloody single file style." She nods "Walked right passed me,
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straight over to the lift and out they went." "They didn't say anything?" "No. What happened in there?" "Oh, everything and nothing!" I rub my forehead hard with my fingertips. "Why does everything have to always go wrong with me?" Her face is sympathetic. "The projector stopped working after a few slides, which I don't understand because I checked everything before they even arrived." I huff. "I don't know what to do, this was so important for me. Assford's going to sack me isn't she?" I ask, chewing a nail. "Don't think like that. You have to stay positive, maybe they'll let you off this once because you're new?" "But I'm not new Michelle, I was here for years, I should know how to do all this." I feel myself crumbling and I try so hard to hold it back but it all gets too much for me. "I'll be right back." I say and rush back to the toilets to let out an almighty cry. Why me? I feel sick. I have to tell Sue before word gets around the office and Assford finds out via one of her many sources. I wipe my face again and rush round to her office. She's in there with her eyes closed and her palms facing the ceiling, fingertips touching... seems she's always like this. I knock three times and she waves me in when she realises the panic on my face. "Rosella are you alright?"
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"No." I crack my knuckles one by one. "Please don't do that, it makes my ears bleed." She looks back at my face and asks me to sit. "What's wrong, you look a mess." "They've gone." I shake my head in disbelief. "They just left." "What do you mean? Who's gone? Left what?" "Kemble & Kole." Her jaw drops. Oh Christ, she hates me. "What do you mean gone?" Her voice has suddenly become stern and disappointed. "Kemble & Kole could've potentially been huge clients Rosella." She stands and begins to pace. "I know, I know." "I thought I could trust you with them, I thought you knew what you were doing?" "I did. I do." I do not. "I mean, I don't know what happened, the projector stopped working and I just lost it. I left the room to use the bathroom, thought I'd calm myself down, gather my thoughts, but when I returned... they were gone." "Bloody hell Rosella, what am I supposed to tell Assford now?" She grips her almost non-existent hips. "I've been singing your praises, telling her that you're the best and that you'll increase our sales... now I look like a fool."
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"I'm sorry, Sue." I put my head down, shamefully. "I'm sorry I’ve let you down. I don't know what to do?" "There is nothing you can do. Just leave it to me, I'll speak to Kemble & Kole, I have a decent contact there and we'll reschedule blaming the situation on the technical error. I'll say that... just leave it to me." She paces some more and I feel so guilty for failing her. "I must go and talk to Assford now before someone else fills her in on this... she will probably be fine, but she can be unpredictable." "Ok. Thanks, Sue." I get up to leave. "I'm so sorry, I promise it won't happen again." "It's Ok, we'll get it sorted. Go to lunch." She instructs me, and I can't deny that a rather large gin and tonic would go down a treat right now. God knows I need it after the morning I've just had. **** As I walk back to my desk after lunch, I see Sue in Assford's office. I can't make out expressions but I know it doesn't look good. I dump my bag on my desk. Jill looks up. "Heard what happened." She says with a concerned look on her face. How the hell did she find out so quickly? "Are you ok?"
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"Yes I'm fine, a little pissed off with myself but I'm fine." Ben looks up at me and gives me a nod, a sort of cocky, knowingly nod, one that clearly means he’s been well informed on my pathetic attempt at a job he knows he can do standing on his head – leading salesman is he. Arrogant git. I wish I could kick him in the shin under the table. I'm sure the whole office knows too. "Don't worry, you'll be fine, you've got Sue in your corner." "I hope so." I raise both eyebrows worriedly. "I need this job." A few seconds after I've sat down, Sue exits the office and sort of storms towards hers. Shit that can't be good. "Rosella," she looks over while still walking "my office please." Her face is bug eyed and serious. She walks straight in and I jump up to follow her. Oh God, please don't let me get the sack. My tummy does a flip; perhaps the liquid lunch wasn’t a good idea. "I'll give it to you straight. She's not happy." Sue looks mad. "Really?" "Really." She replies. "Darling. I know you and I go way back but… you do understand that you are on probation and that you must prove your worth if you are going to
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remain a Sales Executive at Candy?" She says and pauses. "She asked me remind you of that!" Her face is softer. "Right. Of course." I clasp one hand with the other. "Look, she's going to give you another chance, but you can't screw it up, K & K could have been huge for us, she almost had a baby there and then when I told her they walked out. Just do what you do best, I know you can do it." "Oh God, I bet she hates me doesn't she?" "Ro, she hates everyone." "Great. What a great start!" I huff. Things have to change if I want to keep this job. "While you were out at lunch I done some arse licking. I called K & K and spoke to June Seymore. She said she'd give us another chance and has rescheduled an appointment." "Really? Thank you so much Sue, I owe you." I almost burst with gratitude. "Yes you bloody do. Now - it's on Friday, if you fluff it up I'll kill you myself!" She smiles and I know she's forgiven me. "You're the best." "Yes I know! Now go and do some work." She smiles at me in jest.

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I retreat to my desk feeling a lot better about the situation. The next time Kemble & Kole come in I will be ready, I will know what to expect and I will blow their socks off. I will be a great, great, great Sales Executive and they will not be able to resist my charm and charisma. This, I know not to be entirely true but I figure positive thinking is the only way I will get through this next week. I hide behind my monitor so as not to get eye contact with Assford as she leaves her office. The moment she does, people begin shuffling things around on their desks, making phone calls and generally pretending to be busier than they really are. Thank God she just swooped past me and didn't even turn her head. For a second I thought she was going to come over to me and I nearly swallowed my own tongue in panic.

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13. The Letter
I arrive home, so happy to be out of the office. I open the door and smell Mamma's spaghetti and meatballs. My mouth salivates. "Ciao Mamma." I greet her as she tends to the sauce over the stove. I'm famished and won't be having a liquid lunch again in a hurry. "’Allo Figlia." Mamma kisses my cheek. "Wassa matta?" She can tell my by expression that I have had the worst day ever. Papa sits at the kitchen table with his glasses on, reading some sort of letter. I go over to him and kiss his head. "Che successo?" They look at each other with wiery eyes after he’s noticed my sluggish walk. They knew I had the presentation today, they knew how important it was. "It was bad.” I say, looking back at him, his forehead wrinkles with concern. I've had the worst day and I don’t know how I’m going to get out of this mess. It just seems like I’m always surrounded by mess!" I say, exasperated. Papa clears his throat and takes a breath before he starts. "Wharr-a you mean-a mess-a? Wot 'appen?" He pulls his specs off and tilts his head to listen. “You do wot ayou prac-a-tise?” I nod. Mamma moves away from the stove and towards us in her apron.
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"Something went wrong with the machine I was using... the computer." I try to explain. "Something was wrong and the screen just went blank... Everybody was staring at me, waiting for me to speak but I couldn't remember the slides or the order of the presentation." I try hard to hold back the tears but I can't. "I panicked. I wish I had it on paper like how when I was practicing with you and mamma but I didn’t. Then I left the room, thinking I would give myself a few minutes to sort my thoughts out, try to remember what I was supposed to be doing, to calm down." I explain, my eyes filling to their brims. They nod and Mamma puts her hand on my shoulder to comfort me. "When I went back to the room, they'd gone." Tears slowly prick my cheeks. "I could've lost my job, the boss is very difficult; she has very little tolerance for this kind of thing. She's mean." Mamma hands me a tissue and I blow my nose. Papa looks at me as though he feels my pain and he’s angry… he looks mad and protective. "I lost a huge potential client today." "Yo boss sound lak a-stupid." He says in distaste. "You tell-a her dat you just-a need-a sam-a time-a. You want-a me to come, I speak to her-a de bloody beech!" I sit before them both, gobsmacked by Papa's choice of words he called her a bitch! Although I'm crying, I want to laugh
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and a tiny smile creeps over my lips. "No worry Figlia, you gon be a-fine-a... you jus tek a-yo time-a and rememba you done-a dis befo' fo long-time-a, tell her-a to peess off-a." He says, waving his hands frantically. And with that, Mamma and I cannot help but laugh. "Calm-a down-a, Aldo, se no ti fai male." Mamma says, laughing her way back to the stove to stir the ragu. "Darli?" She turns to come back to me. "You no you can-a do it-a. You just-a ave-a to believe in-a yo-self-a." She pinches my cheek gently and then taps it. She's right. I need to believe in myself. Being home helps me feel better. "Si mangia." Mamma announces that dinner is ready and Papa and I return to the table. We sit in our designated places, Papa at the head of the table as always, Mamma beside him to his left and me to his right. Three hot steaming plates of Spaghetti with delicious meatballs propped on the top in a huddle, covered in ragu. Mamma passes the block of Parmigiano and the metal grater that grates the cheese finely and perfectly. I grate a little over my pasta and pass it on, then begin to twist the long strands of pasta around my fork. "Aye 'ave-a some news-a." Papa says before filling his mouth with pasta. "Hmm?" I ask, through my tightly closed lips as I
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chew and furrow my brow. Mamma doesn't say anything; she looks at Papa and waits for him to talk again. "Tuo cugino, Gianpaolo, he come-a to stay, wid-a Clara." "Really? They're coming? When? I haven't seen them for years." "Ambra, she come-a too." Ambra is Gianpaolo's sister, they are my cousins from Italy. I can't believe they are coming to visit. How exciting, it's been so long and Ambra and I were always so close growing up. "Dey come-a wid friends-a, dey neva bin to London." "Who are they bringing?" "Gianpaolo's friends-a, aye don-no." He replies and my heart skips a beat. Gianpaolo's friends. Which ones? I ask myself, but I don't want to seem too interested. "Do you remember their names?" I try casually. "Non mi ricordo, look-a in de letta from-a Zio Sebastiano." He nods over to the worktop where a folded sheet of paper sits. Mamma watches me and my elation. I feel her eyes on me. Who is he bringing? While balancing my fork between my thumb and index finger, a heavy meatball at its end, I reach for it with excitement. I shove the meatball in my mouth, take a bite and chew whilst I pull open the page, almost tearing it. My eyes scan down the hand written letter. Zio
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Sebastiano is Papa's brother and the father of Gianpaolo and Ambra. There, in black ink is the name I was thinking of, or at least one of them... He's bringing Nico. Dreamy, delicious Nico - his best friend. And also Davide, who sort of got on my nerves when we were kids, but I'm sure he's a nice guy now that he's all grown up. I can't remember the last time I saw them, I must have been around eighteen or something. Nico was the best looking boy in the village and every girl fancied him, including me of course. The letter says they are coming in the spring, for Easter. I hope they'll bring jackets incase we have the usual drizzly afternoons. The months is bound to fly by. Oh my God, I'm going to see Nico after all these years, my childhood holiday crush. After I've finished my pasta, I dutifully help Mamma clean the kitchen until it sparkles, as we do every night after dinner. I bring Papa his espresso and retreat to my room to call Eva to fill her in on the most exciting news I've had in a long time. "Do you remember me telling you about him?" I say, as Eva thinks back to when we were young. "How could I bloody forget darling, every year when you returned from your holidays, you went on and on about him for months after. God knows why you never told him about your crush."
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"I was young and shy. He's probably different now... Probably has someone special in his life… but it's just so exciting to know that I'll see him after so long... and my cousins of course... I must start practising my Italian." "You've already got a head start so that's good." "Yes, I'll be asking my cousin Ambra for some help, I can't wait to see her. We were always so close when we were growing up, we're the same age. Oh we'll have to take her shopping." "Of course and for cocktails!" Eva throws in. "After the terrible day I had at work, I could use one now." I immediately have second thoughts after I recall my lunch consisting of four Gin and Tonics in a row; my stomach churns. "What happened at work?" "Oh you don't want to know... it's a long story, one I wish to forget!" I roll my eyes. "Did that bitch boss from hell give you attitude?" "In a nutshell, I lost us a huge potential client because I cocked up my presentation and basically, I could've lost my job." "They couldn't do that." She insists. "Yes they could, I'm on probation! They can do what they like – they own me!"

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After my phone call with Eva I sink into a hot bubble bath and dream about when I was a teenager. When my toes are sufficiently wrinkled, I leave the steamy bathroom and return to my room where I put on my flannelette pyjamas and try to plan how I intend to keep my job. I pull out a notepad from my dressing table along with a pen and I write a list of things I need to accomplish my goals. I flick back the front page and begin scribbling... Things To Do To Keep Job: 1 Be assertive. 2 Be confident. 3 Must play memory games to increase memory incase computer fails again. 4 Revise all presentations and learn by heart. 5 Failing to impress Assford is an epic fail – somehow, impress her! 6 Get a grip! 7 WIN NEW CLIENTS (should be point 1). I stare at my list and think about what more I can do to turn my luck around at Candy, I have to change things or I will never survive there. Assford will kick me out on my arse and then I'll have nothing. At least let me get to my first
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pay cheque before getting the sack. Eva's help with the bills can't last forever and I can't live here at home with Mamma and Papa for the rest of my days, as much as I love them, I have to get a hold of my life... I must seriously get a grip on reality. I feel a sudden rush of accomplishment with my words glaring back at me. A strong sense of power and purpose comes over me. I slam the pen down on the notepad… I can do this, I have to get Assford to like me before she hates me. By the end of the next presentation she'll be putty in my hands. I feel my old self returning... Ahhhh here they are, the balls I've been searching for for so long, they've been here all along but have somehow been in hiding, along with my backbone. Now, no need to fear, no need to blend into the back ground any longer. I have to believe in myself, just like Mamma said and if I do, I will make it. If she has faith in me, I can have faith in myself. I will go into work with a new attitude. I will have a new head on my shoulders, I will contact prospective clients, I will make suggestions in meetings, I will build vital relationships in the office (except with Ben because he's a gloating bastard). I take a deep breath and lean back against my headboard… this feels good, I finally feel good... Maybe I needed this push to get me to snap out of the rut that I was in.

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**** The next morning I jump up out of bed, eager to leave early so I can sail through the traffic. I swig my morning coffee down in one fell swoop, jump in the shower and dress in my wide leg, high waist trousers, my blouse neatly tucked into place and my long jewelled necklace swinging from my neck. I push my feet into my patent black stilettos and grab my black slouchy leather handbag, hooking it onto the crook of my elbow before I stride to the car with purpose. I suddenly catch myself humming and smile, can't remember the last time I hummed. I pull up into my parking space, not a smidgen out of the white borderlines and I make my way up the lift to the third floor. It's 8.30am and I'm half an hour early. I punch the air with delight and drop my bag by my desk. Once I've wheeled my chair out and sat down, I turn on my computer and prepare to work through the list of potential clients (PCs) Jill emailed me. The PCs were passed on to me because her workload was becoming far too large for her to handle, hence the reason why Sue found an easy excuse to employ me. Jill had been complaining about her workload for some time. I gladly took them off her hands but now need to begin contacting them and arranging dates for presentations, which could possibly be in the New Year, but
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booking out January sounds like productive work to me. Once I've won these clients they become new business (NBs) and they are passed on to the Account Managers who maintain their needs and deal with all their ordering and reordering etc. I open my email swiftly by double clicking the icon. Three unread messages from last night. Memos. I read each of the subject titles. Number 1 - Memo: Staff Discount. Ohh I like the sound of that, building up my Candy range again would be fantastic. Number 2 - Memo: Staff Holiday. Which reminds me, I'd better book some time off for when my cousins (and Nico) arrive. Number 3 Memo: Coffee Mugs. I quickly scan through them... 45% staff discount. Nice. Staff holidays are only to be booked once they are approved by HR and not before. Certain people taking holidays, assuming they will be granted them and are not following rules. Duly noted. Coffee mugs being left in the sink. Not allowed - must be washed. Got it. I reply to each, confirming that I've read and understood them. My eyes follow the list of emails in my inbox until I reach Jill's. The title says: PC for NB (everything is abbreviated here! The other day, Pam asked me if I'd seen the PCM and could the FM do the same thing - I had no idea what she was talking about - later I found out the photocopier machine had been moved and the fax machine also produced photocopies).
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Ok. I highlight all the details; company names, contacts, phone numbers and copy them, open a spreadsheet up and paste it all in. It needs to be organised, I'll aim for alphabetically by company name. It's the most efficient way I can keep tabs on who I've called and when and if they are interested in Candy. If they are and they book a date with me for a presentation, I will enter the date in the blank box at the end saying, Presentation Booked. This is also entered into my Filofax and the diary on my computer, which Sue can access and know where I am on which days. Some presentations are done here at Head Office, some will be done at the PC's premises. While I'm ploughing through lists of names and companies, the office has filled out. It's now 10am; time has flown by. I get up and head for the breakout room to make a coffee and give my eyes a break from staring at the boxes on the screen. The kettle plops away while I stretch my legs. Jill walks in and joins be, late start for her today; Ben and Sam are also in but have hardly breathed two words to me since they arrived. "Presentation this morning." Jill announces. "Oh excellent, who with?" I ask, pouring the boiled water into my mug "It's with Manière."
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"Wow, that's huge, are you nervous?" "Not really." She collects a mug from the cupboard and begins to prepare it for a cup of tea. "It's after the sales meeting." "Great." Shit. I totally forgot about the sales meeting this morning. I surreptitiously look at my watch. Twenty minutes to go. "Yeah, it's a big'un this one, they want us to demonstrate the products on a model so I've got Jessie coming in with one of her models, she should be here any minute to prep." She looks down at her watch. "Jessie?" "Yes she's one of Candy's MUAs." "What's an MUA?" "A Make-Up Artist." "Ahhh right." I reply feeling silly. I ought to write a book on the abbreviations used by the staff in this company. "They started using MUAs after PCs began requesting visual demonstrations of the make up." "Right, because they never had MUAs in my day!" I giggle feeling old. "That's right." She grins. "But they are proving to be very popular." We walk back to our pod and I make sure I've saved
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my spreadsheet. Jill's phone rings and I jump at the loud ring tone, which happens to be Britney Spears' song, Slave For You. I curl my lip and furrow my brow at the sound coming from her phone, a little inappropriate for the office I think. I'm a... slllaaave for you.... although it does have me tapping my foot under the desk. "Hello?" She answers in a professional tone. "What do you mean? You're kidding right? Jessie, this is a big deal, I've got my CEO attending the presentation." She huffs, her voice becomes anxious and frustrated. "What are we going to do now? Where are you?" There is silence, I feel her tension through the partition, I raise my head to peep over and check that she hasn't stopped breathing. She's there, the phone pressed up against her ear, her eyebrows knitted together and her fingertips rubbing her forehead with worry. "Are you OK?" I mouth to her. She shakes her head and her eyes look as though they could fall out from their sockets. "But Manière have specifically requested the demo." Her eyes water over. "Ok fine. I'll see you when you get here." She presses the off button on her mobile and huffs, slumping into a pile. "I don't believe this." She slams a closed fist on her desk. "What's happened?" "The model is sick and Jessie can't get another in
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such short notice... I don't know what I'm going to do, Manière have specifically requested a live demo of our make up." She says again. "Assford's going to be there." She whispers harshly. That's big. At least when I messed up my presentation Assford wasn't in the room to witness it. She must be going out of her mind with worry. Suggest something Rosella, suggest something. "I'll do it!" I blurt. I said it out loud before I'd even had a chance to think it through. I mean, I'm no model but I scrub up Ok. "You will? Wait..." Her voice trails off while her brain works overtime as she examines me thoroughly. She nods to herself. "Are you sure? There will be quite a few people present. "Oh, you'll be saving my life if you do." She says. I can't refuse now anyway. It'll be a good thing; perhaps it'll put me in good stead with Assford. I can get back to the spreadsheet later. Rosella saves the day, I think to myself. "I'll do it." I repeat and she jumps up and hugs me. "I thought I might have to pack my desk up for a minute there! You know what Assford's like." She giggles and reaches for her phone again. "Jessie, problem solved. I'll explain when you get here." She looks at her watch, "Ok see you in five." She looks over at me and gives me a thumbs up. She puts the phone down. "Right, all you have to do is
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sit there, we'll remove your make up and stick you in a robe and headband." I swallow hard, even though it was my idea, I am a little nervous. "I will announce you saving the day at the Sales meeting!" She walks away towards the meeting room. "C'mon, we'll be late." I grab a notepad and rush after her. "But what about Jessie? Isn't she coming to prepare?" "Yes, she'll be setting up her gear in the boardroom and then once the meeting is over I'll send you in there to get yourself sorted." She instructs. "Right." I reply. We enter to meeting room where the sales force sit waiting for us, the last to arrive. The meeting is filled with updates and discussions on present statistics, how sales figures can be improved, etcetera. Ben is congratulated on obtaining new business with Chival's, we all clap while he stands and takes a bow. Twat. Snobby bastard, thinks he knows it all. "He's such a snobby git." I whisper to Jill. "I know. Everyone hates him... Ben Gibbons!" She spits his name like it’s a foul taste. "Well, most people do." The way she said it sort of makes me curious as to what she meant by it.
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"Does anyone have anything to add to the meeting?" The room is silent for a moment until Sue notices Jill's hand raised "Ah, Jill, the floor is all yours." "I just wanted to add that Rosella has saved the day today and think that it ought to be mentioned." Sue's face lights up for me while I feel myself blush. Ben looks over with a snarly look on his face for taking his glory. "I'm presenting this morning to Manière." The crowd ohh. Manière are a large fashion boutique with various stores scattered around London, if they take on Candy's products it will be an amazing success for Jill not to mention the huge bonus in her pay packet. "Manière asked for an LMP with one of Candy's MUA's." (LMP - live model presentation I work out whilst she’s talking). "Well, around five minutes ago, the MUA's model called in sick and the MUA couldn't find another model to cover, so Rosella stepped in." "Excellent!" Sue replies "Good thinking Rosella. I like a girl who thinks on her feet. Well done!" The room fills with applause for me, while I think about how trivial it is. People nod at me as if they’ve suddenly found a respect for me; some look over as if they are noticing me for the first time. I smile back and feel elated with excitement. I not sure what the big deal is, I'm positive anyone else would have done the same thing.

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After a further ten minutes, the meeting is up, giving me plenty of time to prepare for the LMP. I rush into the boardroom with Jill. "You're going to have to work on Rosella." Jill announces as we walk in. Jessie's face is pale, "but..." she freezes once she examines me. Good Lord, I'm not that ghastly am I? "Hi Jessie." I say, sticking my hand out to shake hers. She's displayed the Christmas Collection and various bestsellers neatly in her make up case with her brushes easily accessible. "Hi Rosella." She shakes my hand and looks at me as though she's scrutinising every open pore on my face. I feel uncomfortable for a second, until I remember that I look the best I've looked in years. It's Ok; it's her job to look and to make me look better after the make over... I mean, presentation. Jessie is young and beautiful, her blonde hair bounces as she moves, with loose waves cascading down her back. Her petite frame is to die for and her nails are perfectly squared off and covered in the favourite Candy shade around the office it seems, Poppy. The make up on her eyes is blended flawlessly into a smokey, sultry look using warm browns and golden tones. If her make up is anything to go by, I think this might just have been the best idea I've ever
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had. "Sorry for staring," she says "It's just I've never worked on your face before so I'm wondering which parts to emphasis during the presentation." "Right." I bounce on the balls of my feet with my hands behind my back. I tuck my hair behind my ears to allow her to see more of my face. "I think we'll work on your eyes shall we? We don't need to do any contouring, you have amazing cheek bones." She says. "Great cheekbones." Jill agrees folding her arms in front of her as they both examine me. I feel myself lift inside but try to act as though I hear that sort of complement all the time. Jessie looks at her watch. "They should be here very soon so let's get you prepped, here put this on." She throws me a Candy robe. The soft white fabric feels luxurious as I slip my arms into the arms and wrap it around me, tying the belt into a bow. Jill stands back to let me sit in the tall white Director's chair. "Rosella, thank you so much for stepping in and doing me this favour. I don't know what I'd have done." Jill says looking sincere. "I know it's not the grandest of tasks but..." "On the contrary, I think you're doing me the favour." I interject. "I think it's about time I had a make over!" She
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smiles back at me and gives me a nudge with her elbow. "Right, I'm going to continue setting up the room, I'll leave you with Jessie Ok, she'll sort you out. Remember you don't need to do or say anything, just sit there pretty and smile when Jessie's finished." "Got it." I say, perching my feet on the bar across the bottom of the legs of the chair. "Let's take your make up off." Jessie hands me a head band that I pull over my head and push back to remove my hair from my face before she begins to remove all products from my skin. I feel a little self-conscious so decide not to look at myself in the hand held mirror she passes me. I trust her judgment, even though I don't know her. Jill bolts around the room placing our golden pouches and brochures at every place around the table while Jessie rubs my face with some peach smelling product and it removes every scrap of make up off my face. "There." She says. "Clean as a baby's bum!" My face feels fresh, soft and smells good enough to eat. I can't wait to see the final product, the new me... I'm not sure who's getting more out of this, Jill or me... People from Manière walk into the room and make themselves comfortable around the table, Jill shakes every one

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of their hands as they pile in. Assford joins the room once everyone is settled and she sits at the back, watching Jill's every move. Her experience shows as she works the room and confidently walks to and from the clients ensuring they are all comfortable. Suddenly Assford notices me in the make up chair and curiously frowns over at me as though she is wondering what I am doing there. Before Jill begins, Assford beckons her over. "The MUA's model called in sick last minute." I see Jill explain, and even though I can't hear her, I can lip read. "Rosella stepped in to save the day." She says and Assford's face does exactly what I hoped it would. She smiles as though she is impressed, even though still maintaining the professional stern expression she usually keeps. One would swear she was stone. She turns to me and nods ever so slightly. Approval. I shift in my seat proudly with my head poised ready to be a model for the first time in my life. The presentation goes down a storm. Manière loved the Christmas Collection and loved Jill, she really has a way with people. I've taken some great tips from her. During the application, some guests even asked me how the products felt on my skin, of course they had no idea that I work as a Sales Executive here and thought I was merely a model. I praised the collection and also raved about how exquisite the Candy Rose bubble bath is. Sue tells me that I am currently in Assford's good books for stepping up and helping out a colleague. She
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said it's good to see some team spirit in Candy and I felt proud that I was able to help out. She is also pleased because Manière have signed a contract with Candy to sell our Christmas Collection in their boutiques, which is huge. Once the Limited Edition has finished they fully intend on holding our classic line too. Jill is over the moon and promises to take me out for a fancy dinner when she gets her pay cheque through. But if I'm honest, I'm mostly excited about the bag of goodies Jessie gave me. Cinnamon Swirl cheek balm: my favourite.

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14. Drunk Secrets
Time flies by and the Christmas Collection is selling like hot cakes. Before I know it’s Christmas Eve and the staff at Candy are working half day. The office is bright and perky, even if it’s raining cats and dogs outside. Everyone is in the Christmas spirit with tinsel in their hair and tied around their wrists. Our desks are decorated with an assortment of Christmassy adornments; tiny reindeers, Santa hats, paper angels stuck to the outside of our computer screens, plastic gold bells and all you can hear around the office is “Jingle Bells” coming from the little computer speakers in Sue’s office. She loves Christmas more than anyone, plus Assford’s not here so playing Christmas music is allowed. There is a large Christmas tree in reception; Michelle spent two hours decorating it two weeks ago. It has every single possible tree ornament that was ever created hanging from its real branches and all the delicious foiled chocolate snowmen have all been eaten… mainly by me I’m sure. Unfortunately, Michelle has been moaning about the tree’s shedding needles on a daily basis but she wouldn’t listen when I told her to keep the small heater she has under her desk well away from it. Today we exchanged our secret Santa pressies; I got Selina a gift of bath salts and fluffy bed socks from Debenhams. Most people in today are worst for wear actually, we had our Christmas party at El Diablo, the Spanish Restaurant in town
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last night and after far too many drinks down me, everything started to feel strangely good. Jill and I spent most of the night sitting at the table engrossed in drunken conversation, you know the ones that you say far too much than you’re supposed to, things that you wouldn’t normally say if you were sober. I regrettably ended up telling her all about my problems and how my husband had disappeared into thin air, which in turn had me drunk-crying into my glass for ten embarrassing minutes with intermittent hiccups. Drunk-crying is the worst of the crying kind isn’t it? When I came in this morning I hoped she would've forgotten due to the amount we'd both drunk, but it appears that she hasn't. Whilst we were both in the kitchen making coffee earlier, she asked how I was planning on spending tomorrow since it was to be the first Christmas without my husband, which then of course had me hung-overcrying in the toilets. I’m ok now. Why do we do that? Get drunk and divulge our secrets to the bloody world? I didn’t want anyone to know about what had happened, too late now big mouth. Of course, what with all the festivities happening, the last few days leading up to the party were proving to be difficult… I hadn't forgotten the fact that I was husbandless and drinking myself silly was the only way I could have gotten through the night to be honest, it was either that or snogging some guy on the dance floor that I didn’t know like Samantha, or worse, snogging some guy on the dance floor that I knew from work, like Helen! Now that would’ve been highly
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embarrassing. So I suppose that divulging my life to Jill was the best option I had and we did bond. She was telling me about how much she hates Ben and why he's such a git. It was at that point that I realised why he acts holier-than-thou and why no one ever puts him in his place. It turns out, after a lot of bulging eyes and open-mouthed expressions that HE is the boss' son! He is the son of Mr. Carmichael. Naturally I had to confirm the rumours about him and Assford shagging on the photocopier, which of course are totally true, hence the reason why he is such a sanctimonious, pretentious prick. I had no idea because firstly, he hardly speaks to us low lives and secondly, he has a different surname. Drunk-Jill told me that that is because Mr. and Mrs. Carmichael divorced when Ben was young and he took his mother’s maiden name after they split on bad terms - Gibbons. Turns out he got into some financial trouble and the pompous snob needed a job so he came to Daddy, who of course was plagued with guilt and gave him a job in a heartbeat. Ben though, doesn't like to be known as the boss' son or to have been given any special treatment. Now it makes sense as to why Michelle may have had a secret crush on him, I asked Jill if she and he had ever hooked up and apparently at a Christmas party a few years back, Michelle and Ben were flirting all night and the rumour is that they had drunk-sex in a toilet cubicle. When Jill told me everything I almost choked on the olive in my martini. It's amazing what one can learn about someone at the office Christmas party. Also turns out that Jill proved to be a barrel of laughs once she'd let
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her hair down a bit and I can honestly say that her wonky eye is less noticeable than it initially was. Sue danced the whole night long, making us do the Mexican wave about twenty five times… I'd forgotten how much fun she could be, although twenty five times was a little excessive. As I turn to her in her office now, she isn't sitting there meditating today; she's sleeping, hunched over in her chair even though “Santa Baby” is now blaring through the speakers. We were paid early this month in time for the holidays. We all got a Christmas bonus of £500 on top of any commission we'd made. Even though this is my third payslip, I still can't believe I'm earning my own money again, I'd forgotten what it felt like. Ok, so most of it is already spoken for; I have to pay the mortgage, clear some more debt and pay Eva the last £800 I owe her but that's Ok. I still have enough for Christmas presents. Before I make my way back home I stop at the Italian Deli and purchase all the things Papá usually comes home with at the weekend; fresh Ricotta, Parmigiano, Mortadella, Proscuitto, green and black olives and Panella bread. I also picked up some extra things we always have at Christmas, which I was actually lucky to find since almost everything had gone and he was just about to close when I turned up. I got a Panettone, some dried figs and two bags of chestnuts, among other things... I want them to know how much I have appreciated everything they have done for me.
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I pull up at the house and ask Papá if he can help me with all the bags. It's dark out, I didn't realise I'd been shopping for so long, I obviously got carried away. Papá comes out, shocked at the amount I've returned with. "Ma, wot-a you do, buy-a de whole shop-a?" He laughs, moving his hands around animatedly at the bags on the floor, he pushes his gold framed glasses to his face and reaches for a few. Gripping them in between his fingers, he takes them into the house and I follow with more bags. "Embé?"    Mamma  asks  as  we  step  into  the  warm   house.    "Wot's-­‐a  dis?"  Her  face  crumples.    She  shakes  her   head.    "Why  you  go  and-­‐a  buy-­‐a  all  of-­‐a  dis?"     "I  wanted  to  say  thank  you  for  everything  you've   done  for  me."    I  hug  them  both  at  the  same  time.    As  I  step   back,  each  of  us  has  watery  eyes  and  Papá  diverts  attention   to  the  rest  of  the  shopping  out  by  the  car.   "Cam-­‐on,"  he  says.    "Let's-­‐a  bring-­‐a  de  rest  in-­‐a."    I   follow  him  out  to  the  car  while  Mamma  begins  to  unpack  all   the  goods.   Finally  we  6inish  retrieving  the  bags  and  I  help  

Mamma  with  storing  the  rest  away  before  we  eat  dinner.     Spaghetti  alle  vongole  tonight  and  pesce  con  insalata  for   second  course.  No  meat  on  Christmas  Eve...  It's  tradition.     Except,  I  forgot  for  a  split  second  and  almost  ate  a  slice  of   Mortadella  from  the  pile  I'd  just  bought  from  the  Deli.
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While we eat dinner together I look over at the Christmas tree Mamma also put up two weeks ago while I was at work. The red, gold and silver balls dangle daintily in between the strings of thin red beaded garland and the white lights twinkle. I see ornaments I remember handing up there myself as a child, still in perfect condition and perched on the edges of the branches. Foil covered chocolate Santa’s similar to the Snowmen at work (especially for me and Papá). Where has the time flown? Filippo always came over Christmas day mid morning and would spend the day with me and the family eating food. It's true we never really spent much time with his parents, except for Boxing day; we'd go there for a few hours but they were a very reserved family and Filippo always seemed to be in a hurry to leave. I've been trying hard not to think about it too much. It will be strange to sit around the dinner table and not have him there next to me. I have no choice but to deal with it. I have to try to at least, for the sake of Mamma and Papá if not for myself. I remember on our first Christmas together as a married couple, we ran down the stairs in our new home on Christmas morning when it was still dark outside and sat by the huge twinkling tree, presents overloading the carpet beneath it. He handed me a small box, wrapped in gold paper with a pretty bow on it. I handed him a long box, wrapped in red paper with a white satin bow on it. "Merry Christmas, Darling." He said.
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"I love you with all my heart." After the count of three we untied the bows and opened our gifts in unison. The diamond earrings sparkled like stars. They were beautiful. His eyes grew wide as he flipped back the lid of his new round-faced chronograph watch. He hugged me so tightly, smothering my face with kisses. I basked in the affection, loving every second of his arms around me. We'd only been married six months and were still very much on cloud nine. "We are going to have a wonderful life together." He said. I believed him. I really believed him. But just two years after that, that’s when things began to change; he was different and he would make excuses about why we should leave Christmas dinner early or not even go over at all. Even still, life without him hasn't been the same and I've truly had to learn to be without him, most of the time I'm Ok - especially since I have this job to keep me occupied now - but I know, Christmas won't be the same without him and I know it's going to be a hard day for me. *  *  *  * Eva  has  been  invited  over  for  the  day.    It's  been   freezing  leading  up  to  the  holiday  season  this  year.    I've   woken  up  this  morning  with  a  terrible  headache,  but  it's   Christmas  day  and  as  much  as  I  want  to  stay  in  bed,  I  have  to   go  downstairs  to  help  Mamma  with  the  preparations.    I  sit   up  and  look  outside  my  window,  pulling  back  my  curtain.     No  snow  on  the  ground  today  but  the  sky  looks  a  mix  of  
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white  and  grey;  I  think  it's  on  its  way.    The  cars  are  frosted   over  and  the  dried-­‐out  hydrangea  bush  in  our  front  garden   is  white  with  frost  too.    The  road  is  empty  of  people  on  this   cold  morning  but  I  can  see  the  6lashing  tree  lights  and   movement  across  the  street  in  the  house  opposite.    It's   Christmas  morning  and  something  feels  weird.    Like  I've   forgotten  to  do  something.      I  feel  as  though  I'm  supposed  to   be  feeling  something,  something  else  but  inside  I  feel  numb.     I  kick  the  covers  off  me  and  slip  my  feet  into  my  slippers.    On   my  way  out  of  my  room  I  grab  my  robe  and  make  my  way   down  the  stairs.    The  kitchen  is  already  covered  with  dishes   of  food  everywhere,  it's  like  Mamma  had  Santa's  little   helpers  in  here  with  her.    She  is  as  calm  and  as  organised  as   ever.    The  lasagna  is  on  the  side  in  a  huge  glass  dish  and   covered  with  silver  foil  ready  to  be  cooked.    The  turkey  has   been  prepped  and  put  into  a  large  roasting  pan  with  peeled   and  quartered  potatoes,  onions  and  carrots  scattered   around  it.    There  are  four  plates  ready  for  me  to  dish  out  the   antipasto  and  the  desserts  are  in  the  fridge.    Mamma  made   Strufoli  as  she  does  every  Christmas  and  they  sit  covered  in   honey  under  a  glass  cake  cover. I  kiss  Mamma  and  Papá  and  we  have  breakfast   together  before  we  set  out  to  prepare  the  table  for  our   lunch.    I  try  my  hardest  not  to  drag  my  feet  but  I  can't  help  it.     While  Papá  pops  out  and  Mamma  is  caught  up  with   preparing  the  vegetables,  I  escape  to  the  living  room  where  I  
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sit  beside  the  Christmas  tree  in  silence.    I  eat  a  few  chocolate   Santas  and  sip  the  rest  of  my  coffee.    I  don't  want  him  to   spoil  my  day,  I  don't  want  to  feel  like  this  but  I  can't  help  it.     He  could  even  be  stranded  somewhere  with  no  food  or   water,  he  could  be  dead.    My  guilt  eats  me  up  inside  as  I  let   the  tears  prick  my  cheeks,  I’ve  been  able  to  ignore  this,  get   on  with  my  life  up  until  now…  but  today,  I  just  can’t  ignore  it.     Later  Eva  arrives  and  we  6inish  preparing  our   extravagant  meal  together.    It's  almost  lunchtime  and  the   table  has  been  laid.    At  the  top  of  each  place  setting  sits  a   cracker  and  in  the  centre  of  the  table,  three  candles  are  lined   up  in  a  row.    The  smile  on  my  face  is  only  for  the  sake  of   everyone  else  but  today  only  reminds  me  of  what  I've  been   trying  to  come  to  terms  with,  which  most  days  I  can  forget   about.    Mamma  and  Papá  try  hard  to  keep  me  occupied  by   giving  me  little  jobs  and  Papá  plays  Christmas  music  from   the  stereo  to  lift  my  spirits.    Eva  talks  for  the  both  of  us  since   I  can  hardly  think  straight. "Ro,  are  you  feeling  Ok?"    She  pulls  me  to  one  side   when  no  one  is  looking.    "I  know  today  is  going  to  be  really   hard  for  you,  but  I  want  you  to  know  that  if  you  want  to  talk   about  it  you  can,  I'm  right  here  Sweetheart.    Even  if  you   want  to  cry,  I  don't  mind  you  blubbing  on  my  shoulder,  as   long  as  you  don't  leave  any  mascara  on  my  cashmere   jumper!"    She  giggles  and  I  look  up  at  her  from  under  my  
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tear  6illed  eyelashes.    "It's  Ok  to  be  upset,  we  understand."     She  rubs  my  arm.    Seems  that  hiding  my  feelings  is  doing  no   good,  they  can  see  straight  through  me.    It's  not  that  I  don't   want  to  talk,  but  just  that  I  have  nothing  to  say.    Just  for   today,  I  don't  want  to  try  hard  to  be  Ok,  I  want  to  just  sit   here,  quietly  and  breathe.    I  don't  want  to  pretend,  or  forget,   or  regret.    That  is  for  tomorrow.    Tomorrow  I  will  be   stronger;  I'll  be  braver. The  day  passes  quickly  and  I  had  to  force  myself  to   eat  since  I  didn't  want  all  of  Mamma's  hard  work  to  have   been  in  vein.    Later  we  played  cards  and  bingo,  just  like  we   have  done  every  year.    I'd  lost  count  of  how  many  times  Eva   shouted  "BINGO!"    But  now,  as  I  face  the  ceiling  of  my   bedroom,  in  silence,  I  promise  myself  that  this  will  be  the   last  time  I  will  feel  like  this.    I  have  to  push  forward  and  I   cannot  have  days  like  this  that  set  me  back  almost  to  the  day   he  didn't  return.    All  the  progress  I've  made...  gone.     Tomorrow  will  be  a  better  day.    And  I  will  be  better.

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15. Spring Arrivals
Christmas  came  and  went.    January  sales  6lew  by.     Valentine's  day  –  hated  it.    Candy  has  become  the  only  focus   in  my  life;  I  have  been  trying  so  hard,  doing  my  best  there   every  day.    I  hope  Assford  is  aware  of  my  dedication   otherwise  I’ll  scream  really  loudly…  not  in  front  of  her  of   course,  or  anywhere  she  could  remotely  hear,  it  would   purely  be  for  my  own  release  of  frustration.    It  seems  that  it   is  the  only  way  that  I  will  survive  this  time  in  my  life,  diving   into  my  work  with  no  intention  of  coming  up  for  air…  at   least  not  for  a  while.    Eva  keeps  probing  me  about  men  ever   since  she’s  known  about  Nico  coming  to  stay…  She  wants  to   know  whether  I  can  foresee  myself  with  anyone…  I  know   what  she’s  hinting  at  but  choose  to  ignore  it…  I  mean,  it’s  not   that  I  haven’t  thought  about  having  a  man  in  my  life  on  those   evenings  at  home  with  Mamma  and  Papa  watching  reruns  of   The  Price  Is  Right  -­‐  oh,  I’ve  thought  of  it,  of  whether  I  can   move  on  and  to  be  honest  the  thought  alone  sends  shivers   up  my  spine.    Getting  to  know  someone  new  all  over  again   just  scares  the  living  daylights  out  of  me.    But  sadly,  I  feel  my   heart  sink  when  I  think  about  the  one  thing  I  wish  I  had  had   a  chance  to  experience  that  I  haven’t  -­‐  motherhood…  Maybe   it’ll  happen  for  me  one  day.   Aside  from  work  consuming  my  life,  I’d  made  a  new   years  resolution  to  clear  all  the  debt  I  have  overhead  before  
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this  year  is  out  and  then  hopefully  I  will  be  able  to  return  to   Chelsea.    After  clearing  so  much  of  it  over  the  last  six   months,  I  know  that  before  long  it  will  be  as  though  I  never   had  it.    My  accounts  are  6illing  at  a  steady  pace  and  I  am   6inally  at  the  stage  where  that  extra  splurge  I  may  have  had   on  a  dress  I  noticed  in  a  shop  window  is  no  longer   something  that  will  make  me  feel  guilty  for  a  whole  month. *  *  *  * It's  now  mid  spring;  the  skies  are  pale  blue  with   white  6luffy  clouds  dotted  about  it  and  I  am  truly  excited…   I've  been  counting  the  days  till  the  family  arrives  –  Ok  so   counting  the  days  sounds  a  little  obsessive  compulsive  but  I   think  it’s  mainly  curiosity  I  feel.    What  will  he  look  like?     Nico  I  mean,  my  childhood  crush…  what  will  have  changed   since  I  saw  him  last.    Will  he  be  married?    Have  children?     It’ll  just  be  so  strange  to  see  each  other  all  grown  up.    I   daren’t  tell  him  of  my  misfortunes  when  it  comes  to   marriage.    Whilst  I’m  ready  to  talk  to  say…  Jill  at  work  and  a   few  others  out  of  my  inner  circle,  I  don’t  think  it  would  be   such  a  good  idea  to  tell  him,  or  any  of  the  family  members  as   a  matter  of  fact.     It’s  just  two  days  until  they  arrive.    They  land  at   Heathrow  and  Mamma  and  I  are  on  the  edge  of  our  seats.     We've  been  preparing  the  rooms,  making  sure  they'll  have   everything  they  need  for  their  stay.    I  have  taken  time  off  
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work  so  I  can  spend  it  with  them,  showing  them  around.     Madame  Tussauds  is  a  must;  the  gas  chamber  still  freaks  me   out  even  today.    I  remember  going  there  as  a  child  when   relatives  would  come  to  visit,  it  was  one  of  the  places  we   always  took  family.    A  large  group  of  us  queuing  up  outside   along  the  building  to  see  all  the  waxworks  and  each  time  we   went  there  was  a  new  waxwork  of  someone.    I  always   remember  being  afraid  of  the  Chamber  of  Horrors;  I  hated   the  eeriness  of  it.    The  cobbled  streets  and  dark  corners   where  Jack  the  Ripper's  victims  lay  dead,  slumped  in  a  bath.     I  knew  it  was  all  made  up  but  it  honestly  felt  like  Jack  had   actually  walked  down  the  streets.    I  guess  the  kudos  go  to   Madame  Tussauds  eh?    But  I  can  recall  how  much  I  hated   the  smells;  the  sounds  and  the  fake  screams  would  have  me   gripping  Papa’s  hand  as  if  my  life  depended  on  it...  Perhaps   we'll  skip  that  part  this  time,  they'll  be  none  the  wiser.     Mamma  has  arranged  a  day  of  baking  tomorrow;   we're  making  biscuits  and  cakes  for  their  arrival.    We  also   have  Colomba  and  Cannoli.    I  have  been  wondering  though...   what  will  he  think  of  me  when  he  sees  me?    I'm  not  entirely   sure  I'll  even  be  able  to  communicate  with  him  -­‐  my  Italian   is  still  a  little  rusty  –  when  I  see  him,  or  my  cousins  as  a   matter  of  fact.    I  can’t  wait  to  see  Ambra. On  the  Friday  morning  -­‐  Good  Friday  -­‐  of  their   arrival,  Mamma  has  spent  most  of  her  time  in  the  kitchen  
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preparing  the  dinner  before  we  leave  for  the  airport.    She   leaves  it  on  the  stove  for  our  return.    We  are  all  going  to  the   airport,  Mamma,  Papa  and  me;  it's  like  a  family  day  out  for   us.    Papa  is  driving  his  car  and  I  will  follow  in  mine  so  there   is  enough  room  to  escort  everyone  back  with  their  cases.     Papa  is  excited  to  see  everyone,  Mamma  too,  they've  brought   a  bag  of  treats  for  the  ride  back  home;  bottles  of  Succo  di   Frutta  in  pear  6lavour  and  Cornetti  with  strawberry  jam   inside,  wrapped  in  individual  packets  from  the  Italian  Deli.     "Cam  on-­‐a."    Papa  instructs  us.    "We  got-­‐to  leave-­‐a,  o   we  gon  be  late-­‐a."    Mamma  and  I  are  packing  up  some  last   minute  bits.    I  need  to  have  one  last  look  in  the  mirror  before   we  go.     "Give  me  one  second  Pa,  I'll  be  back  in  a  minute."    I   say  as  I  bolt  up  the  stairs  and  into  my  bedroom. "Harry  up-­‐a."    He  replies.    I  rush  to  my  full-­‐length   mirror  and  look  at  my  re6lection.    I  chose  a  dress,  a  wrap-­‐a-­‐ round  cotton  dress  in  navy  with  tiny  white  6lowers  scattered   over  it.    I  stare  at  my  nude,  peep-­‐toed  high  heels  and  nod  in   approval.    I  blot  my  peach  lipstick  and  suck  my  cheeks  in  as  I   6lick  my  dark  hair  from  left  to  right  for  that  sexy  look.    Jessie   the  MUA  showed  me  how  to  do  a  smokey  eye  with  my  new   candy  eye  shadows  and  I  have  to  admit,  I've  done  a  pretty   great  job.    I  turn  to  examine  my  side  pro6ile,  I  look  Ok,   pretty...  older  than  when  they  last  saw  me.    I  reach  for  my   blusher  blush  and  quickly  dab  it  into  my  Cheeky  Cheeks   blusher  and  dust  it  over  the  apples  of  my  cheeks.    There,  I'm  
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ready.    I  leave  my  room  and  pad  downstairs  again,  where   Mamma  is  in  the  kitchen  putting  paper  towels  into  her  bag   for  the  Cornetti  and  Papa  has  the  car  running  in  the   driveway,  waiting  for  us.    Mamma  leaves  6irst  and  I  follow,   closing  the  front  door  and  lifting  the  leaver  to  lock  it  behind   me.     Within  thirty  minutes  we  arrive  at  the  airport  and   manage  to  park  almost  beside  one  another  in  the  car  park.     When  we  get  inside,  my  palms  start  to  sweat.    I  reach  into   my  bag  to  re-­‐apply  my  lipstick  as  we  watch  the  screens  to   6ind  out  when  the  plane  has  landed.    Suddenly,  I  catch  a   glimpse  of  myself  in  a  shop  window  and  feel  ridiculous  all   dolled  up  like  this  so  I  blot  my  lips  and  tie  my  hair  back  into   a  ponytail.    Their  plane  has  arrived,  I  read  on  the  board  in   yellow  letters  -­‐  LANDED.    I  try  to  casually  walk  up  and  down   to  calm  my  beating  heart.    I'm  not  even  sure  why  it's   pounding  so  hard.    It's  a  mixture  of  nerves  and  excitement.     Any  minute  now  and  they  will  be  here,  in  the  Arrivals   Lounge.    Papa  6inds  a  place  to  sit  and  he  and  Mamma  wait   for  the  hordes  of  people  to  pile  in.    What  should  I  say  when  I   see  them?    I  should  kiss  them  twice  shouldn't  I?    It's  been  so   long  since  I've  seen  any  family  from  Italy  that  I  can't   remember  what  to  do.        Papa  tells  me  that  Gianpaolo  and   Clara  are  quite  pro6icient  in  English  and  so  is  Ambra.    When  I   was  there  last  -­‐  many  years  ago  -­‐  Ambra  was  studying   English  with  her  friend  Chiara  so  she  was  very  excited  about  
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practising  all  the  time.    I  would  sometimes  giggle  when  she   would  say  half  because  she  would  always  include  the  “l”   even  thought  it’s  silent  and  she  would  say  “ty-­‐Red”  for  tired!     But  I  daren’t  giggle  now,  I’m  sure  there  are  a  gazillion  Italian   words  that  I  will  get  wrong.    She  must  be  really  good  by  now,   which  sort  of  makes  me  relax  a  little  since  I've  had  very  little   time  or  circumstance  to  practise  any  Italian.    It  was  very   gracious  of  Sue  to  allow  me  these  two  weeks  off  since  I've   only  been  back  at  Candy  for  six  months.    She  put  in  a  good   word  with  Assford  and  told  her  that  I'd  already  had  it   booked  before  she'd  hired  me.    Life-­‐saver.     How  long  does  it  take  to  collect  luggage?    I'm  trying   to  calculate  in  my  mind  how  much  longer  it'll  be  before  they   walk  through  the  doors.    We  make  our  way  up  to  the  silver   bars  that  separate  us  from  the  people  arriving.    Every  face   that  passes  I  hear  myself  saying  the  next  face  will  be  one  of   theirs.    Suddenly  Papa  shouts  and  almost  deafens  me. "Wheeeyyyyyyyy."    He  throws  both  hands  in  the  air   as  he  waves  them  down,    his  eyes  6illing  with  tears  of   happiness.    There  they  are.    I  can  hardly  recognised  them.     There's  Gianpaolo  pushing  the  trolley  with  Clara  his  wife   clutching  the  bar.    Ambra  jumps  up  and  down  waving  at  me  -­‐   I  wave  back,  unable  to  wipe  the  smile  from  my  face.    I  spot   Davide  one  of  Gianpaolo’s  other  friends;  his  hair  is  blonde   now,  messy  looking  and  falling  haphazardly  over  his   forehead.    His  skin,  olive  and  his  eyes  are  the  same  chocolate   brown  they  always  were.    Then,  through  the  crowd...there  he  
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is.    I  feel  my  breath  catch  in  my  throat.    Nico  strides  through   and  it  feels  like  it's  in  slow  motion.    His  walk  one  of  a  man   now,  a  strong  man  with  chiseled  features  to  die  for.    His   eyelashes  so  long  and  dark  they  frame  his  grey  eyes   perfectly.    His  jaw  line  -­‐strong  and  masculine.    I  see  his  eyes   smile  just  as  his  full  lips  do  and  his  dark  hair  is  gelled   perfectly  into  place.    Skin  glistening  with  a  sun  kissed  glow   and  I  can  hardly  take  my  eyes  off  him.    Rosella  you're  staring   I  tell  myself  but  I  can’t  stop. Suddenly  my  arm  is  almost  yanked  out  of  its  socket.     Mamma  is  pulling  me  to  meet  them  at  the  opening  of  the   barriers  as  they  walk  passed  everyone.    I  move  fast,  shaking   myself  out  of  my  trance  to  join  her  as  she  pushes  her  way   through  the  crowd  to  reach  the  end  of  the  bars.    Ambra   almost  chokes  me  with  her  arms  wrapped  around  my  neck   so  tightly.    She  still  looks  just  like  she  did,  long  hair  falling   down  her  back,  her  petite  frame  still  as  tiny  as  ever.    I  feel   pale  and  sun  deprived  beside  them  all.    Everybody  is  so   happy.    Finally  after  we’ve  all  hugged  and  kissed  cheeks,   Nico  reaches  out  and  pulls  me  into  his  arms.    For  a  second   I'm  dizzy,  I  don't  want  him  to  let  go,  it's  the  6irst  time  a  man   has  held  me  so  close  since  Filippo  and  I  feel  his  warmth   surround  me.    I  smell  the  soft  sent  of  aftershave  on  his   clothes  and  drink  him  in  as  my  face  rests  in  his  neck.    I've   dreamed  of  this  moment  since  I  was  a  teenager.    He  pushes   me  back  to  look  at  me. "Ciao  Rosella...  Mamma  mia,  come  sei  bella!"    He  
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says,  caressing  my  cheek  with  the  back  of  his  6ingers.      I   smile  shyly.    Italians  are  very  friendly  and  overly  warm,  I  say   to  myself.    I  mustn't  mistake  it  for  anything  else.    Even  though   seeing  him  has  brought  back  so  many  memories,  I  just  know   that  I  can't  even  think  about  getting  involved  with  anyone,   it’s  not  the  right  time.    Not  to  say  that  he  would  ever  get   involved  with  me.    I  mean...    He  probably  has  a  girlfriend,  if   not  a  wife.    How  could  a  man  as  delicious  as  he  not  have   someone?     Davide  gently  pinches  my  cheek  “ciao  Bellissima,”  he   says.    "Verry  beauti-­‐fulla."  he  adds  in  English  with  his  thick   accent,  winking  at  me  and  making  sure  everyone  around  us   can  hear  him.    I  blush  scarlet  and  try  to  hide  my  face  by   turning  away.    Why  do  I  feel  like  a  teenager  again?    Hello,   Rosella,  you  are  a  woman  –  sort  it  out!    He  pushes  his  hand   into  the  nape  of  my  neck  and  gently  massages  it  softly  in  an   affectionate  way.    I'm  not  sure  whether  I  feel  comfortable  or   uncomfortable  with  the  gesture.    Italians  are  very  tactile   people;  do  not  mistake  it  for  anything  else.      I  say  to  myself   again.    I  smile  and  choose  to  brush  it  off,  I'm  just  not  used  to   such  affection  from  men.     We  walk  back  to  the  cars  in  the  car  park.    Ambra  and   Clara  ride  with  me  and  Mamma  and  the  boys  go  back  with   Papa.    Not  for  any  other  reason  but  for  us  to  talk  about   women's  things  while  the  men  natter  on  about  something   less  interesting  to  us,  like  Italian  football!  

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At home, Mamma shows our guests to their rooms. Ambra has my room, Davide and Nico share the spare room and Gianpaolo and Clara take Mamma and Papa's room. I opted for a blow up mattress in the dining room while Mamma and Papa will sleep on the sofa bed in the living room for the next two weeks. Giving up your room when family visit is often the forfeit, but Mamma and Papa would never have guests sleep on blow up or sofa beds, they should have space to spread their things out. We eat Penne alla Arrabiata and some fish she cooked at the last minute on the griddle pan with a fresh salad on the side since Good Friday is another non-meat eating day for us. Mamma serves the Cannoli for afters and offers the array of homemade biscuits she’d made the day before with espressos. For some strange reason, I’ve sort of lost my appetite.

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16. Easter Feaster!
Easter Sunday and everyone is in good spirits. Mamma and I prepare a feast for it. Pasta Al Forno, Agnello al Forno, which is roast lamb… with potatoes and a plethora of other vegetables. For afters, warm ricotta cake drizzled with fresh cream for dessert. It's going to be a feast to remember. Reaching for the large patterned tablecloth in the kitchen draw, I pull my phone from my pocket to text Eva – De-licious! Happy Easter. I type it quickly and smile to myself; she'll know what I mean. I hear footsteps down the stairs and quickly slip my phone back into my pocket. Papá is in the shed in the garden picking some wine to have with our meal and once Mamma has seasoned the meat, she chops juicy red tomatoes to add to the salad for our second course. I finish fanning out the tablecloth and it falls down slowly through the air and lands almost perfectly over the table. I reach for the cutlery and put enough down for eight people. Ambra rushes around the corner joyfully and kisses Mamma on the cheek, she's so happy to be here and we’re all happy to have her. "Ti posso aiutarti?" She asks, her eyes big and expectant of some sort direction. "Se vuoi." I say shrugging. I feel like a moron knowing my accent is probably totally rubbish. If she wants to help, it’d be rude to say no, I point her in the direction of the
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glasses to lay on the table. "I bicchieri sono nel'armadio di fronte il lavandino." I say nervously and quietly so Mamma can’t hear me; for some reason knowing she might catch my broken speech sends my confidence plummeting. I cringe as she turns to walk towards the cupboard I’m pointing at. "Qui, vedi." Mamma points to opposite the sink. Shit, she heard me. I blush behind my hair. Ambra opens the cupboard and fishes out the correct amount of glasses needed and places them in front of every place setting. I push napkins under each knife and collect the breadbasket stacked high with sliced Panella; I put it at the centre of the table. As Ambra looks for plates, I fetch the drinks put them down beside the breadbasket - orange squash, lemonade, coke and water, leaving room for Papá's wine. The aroma of the delicious ragu in between the layers of Ziti fills the air as it bubbles slightly around the edges of the dish. The roast lamb smells divine as it finish it’s last bit of cooking before it’s perfectly pink inside. I watch Mamma cut through the browned, crusted top layer of the pasta and see the cheese leaving its trails of stringy white lines from the dish to the spatula as Mamma serves each plate. "Mmmm, che profumo!" Davide says as he walks in and breathes in the delicious smell of Mamma's infamous cooking, wafting it up his nostrils. He approaches me and grabs both my arms in his hands "Rosella, you must-a elp-a me-a
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praka-tise-a my-a Inglese, Okay-a?" He asks looking right into my eyes with all seriousness. "From-a now-a on-a we ave to talk-a in-a English, va bene?" I nod, thinking how sweet he sounds with his thick accent and puppy dog eyes. That aside, he's actually pretty fluent. "Ambra, do you still speak English?" "A little-a." She replies, moving her hand in a so-so manner. "It az bin a long-a time-a since I speak." She smiles adorably. "Very good." I acknowledge her effort, her accent not as thick as Davide's. Gianpaolo and Clara join us and Nico shortly behind them just to see what we are doing in the kitchen. This is always where everyone ends up in our house Mamma’s kitchen. Papá walks through the back door with a bottle of wine in each hand and one tucked under his arm. There's always plenty where that came from. "Wheyyyy!" Gianpaolo says animatedly whilst waving his hands around. "Zio, oggi sarò ubriaco!" He continues, looking at the bottles Papá is clutching and then demonstrates a drunk walk up the kitchen and we all giggle - he still has the same sense of humour! Clara laughs at her husband, and although I hardly know them well as a couple, I can tell they have an unbreakable bond. She glows as she looks back at slurring his words… her expression reveals everything. I'm happy my cousin found someone that could love him like he deserves to be loved. He laughs and returns to her side placing his arm around her neck. He pulls her face to his lips and he
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kisses her gently on her temple. Gianpaolo raises his glass for a toast and we all follow. "Grazie per il vostro ospitalità. Auguroni e buona pasqua." "Buona pasqua." We all reply in unison before tucking in to the delicious mouth watering food. Happy Easter Filippo… I pray no one can hear my thoughts, but Mamma can definitely read my expressions so I quickly smile and sip my wine. We talk about old times, when we were young and sitting around camp fires on the beach at Zio's summer house in the south of Italy… all the festivals we attended and Fer'Agosto, which was always a treat. People arrived with bags and crates of food. We smile at the memories, each person telling a different story... The problem for me is that I just can't stop looking at Nico across the table, watching his every move even his lips parting as he speaks. What is wrong with me? Every now and then he catches me and I quickly move my eyes away. Right, I tell myself; you will not look over at him again… well, for at least another ten minutes. And I try really hard not to, but something continues to draw me to him. Gianpaolo tells the story of the time we came to visit one year and he got into trouble because he wanted us girls to camp out on the beach with him and some of his friends but Papá and Zio wouldn't let me and Ambra go... Gianpaolo was forbidden to leave the house but he snuck out of a tiny window and joined the party without telling a soul, then snuck back in when the sun was just rising.
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Everybody laughs at the demonstration of him climbing out the window that night... it's then I notice him looking back at me. Nico. I pretend not to notice but he is, he is staring right at me while he plays with the empty shells of the pistachio nuts in front of him. I stop laughing and suddenly feel uncomfortable, he hasn't stopped looking at me actually and I know I must be blushing by now because my face feels hotter than fire and my ear lobes hotter. What is he doing? I can't sit here a moment longer. "Coffee?" I jump up offering to make the after dinner espressos. "Certo." A chorus of voices reply, I get up and make my way to the kitchen. Mamma follows me. "Wasa matta?" She asks, noticing my sudden departure from the dinner table as well as my hot fluster. "Nothing." I say, hiding my face. "I just thought everyone would want some coffee." I shrug. Mamma looks at me disbelievingly, I can feel her eyes on me but I dare not look her for fear that I may reveal the very thing I’m trying to lie to myself about. The thing that I am categorically NOT supposed to be feeling. It's tiny, but very much present. It's the same one that was there years and years ago when I was a young… far too young to even really know what I was feeling anyway. This isn’t happening. I’m a widow – aren’t I? How can I have a schoolgirl crush at 34 years old? I'm being stupid, I'm not in a position to be thinking of another man, I shouldn't be thinking of another man, not now, not for a long time. I make myself
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feel guilty just thinking about how wrong I am for doing it. I say nothing and blink the tears away. Mamma and I return to the table with the small espresso cups on a tray and a bowl of sugar. After two gulps, the coffee cups are empty and I whisk them away to be washed. Papá takes everyone into the living room where he plays some music "Cam on-a Rosella, danza wid-a me, let's-a show everybody." Oh Pa, no. No. Don't do this to me, I think while resisting. It’s like it’s his party trick now… everyone look at Rosella make a fool out of herself. "No, please Papá." I say as I stand leaning against the doorframe with a kitchen towel wrapped tightly in my hands I think it might stop the blood circulation in my fingers. "I've forgotten." I shrug. "Plus, I've got to help Mamma." "Eh dai, Rosella." Ambra yanks on the edge of my sleeve as she stands closest to me. "Dance-a wid your-a fadda." She says and everyone cheers me on. A chorus of “Rosella. Rosella. Rosella” chants so loudly I can feel the vibrations in the wall behind me. Mamma comes through the door and pushes me into the room gently until I can't refuse any longer. Nico smiles on, his grey eyes fixated on me, his lips curved up in to a smile. I’m going to fall on my face, I know it. "Ok. Ok!" I put both hands up in surrender, throw the kitchen towel over my shoulder and walk towards Papá. Everyone claps joyfully on the beat of the song. Papá and I stand in our dancing stance ready to take our first step;
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everybody looks on in anticipation and then suddenly, "GO!" Papá shouts and sweeps me off my feet, swirling me around the coffee table as he had done the last time, we skip and hop left and then right. Right and then left. Clara and Gianpaolo jump up and join us, doing the same thing. Nico grabs Mamma's hand and pulls her in to the living room again; she puts down the kitchen towel she's holding and dances with him. He dances so well; Filippo never used to like to dance. He spins her around and around and then skips her round the table. When the song finishes we all fall onto the sofas to catch our breath when my phone bleeps. I read it.
Lucky Bitch! Happy Easter, Save me some food!

It's from Eva. I smile to myself and push my phone back into my pocket again. Soon enough everyone makes for bed and I make my way back to my blow up bed in the dining room pushed against the wall. Layers of blankets dress it and a soft pillow rests at the head. It's cosy. In my pyjamas, I lay on my back facing the ceiling, I've pulled the covers right up to my armpits and a flurry of butterflies invade my stomach when I think of Nico and his beautiful eyes staring at me over dinner. I shift around uncomfortably for a moment; I shouldn't be thinking this way I reprimand myself. It's strange to know that after all these years - after all that time I spent fantasizing about him holding my
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hand down the passeggiate and kissing me goodnight on my Aunty's doorstep – he's here in my house, staring at me over roast lamb on Easter Sunday! Weird. A tiny part of me jumps for joy inside but it's the part that I intend on keeping suppressed. I have to admit, I feel like a teenager again. Tomorrow we are going into Hyde Park, it's said to be warm with a chance of rain but that is usual for the weather forecast, you can never tell what will happen. We have decided we'll risk it. We'll visit the London Eye and Buckingham Palace as well as Big Ben and Trafalgar Square; there is so much to see. It's going to be a long day, I've planned for lunch out in Little Italy and then we'll be home in time for dinner with Mamma and Papá, who I'm sure will be waiting for us. **** I wake up with a sore back and hear Mamma clanking around in the kitchen so I reach for my watch on the chair. It's 7:45am, why am I awake so early? I pull the covers back in excitement, remembering why I am down here on the floor in the first place. I pad to the door of the dining room and pull it open slowly, poking my head through. I hope no one is awake yet so I can shower and dress before they see me. The coast seems clear so I open the door and step out in my flannel PJ's my hair dishevelled no doubt. "Morning Mamma." I tiptoe behind her, exposing my naked toes to the cool lino tiled floor.
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"Morni." She turns to kiss me on the cheek. "Si downa, aye make-a you coffee." She says, knowing it's too early to prepare a breakfast feast with everyone still sleeping. I'll just have some coffee and steal one of the cornetti under the fabric napkin she's set out on the worktop, ready for when they do rise. "Thanks Mamma." "Good Morning, Rosella." I almost choke on my own breath. I look down at my pyjamas and suddenly feel the urge to run and hide. I haven't turned to see who it is, but the dread I feel in the pit of my stomach tells me that I know damn well who it is and he CAN NOT see me like this. I have no choice but to turn and say something back. Shit. Shit. "Oh," is all I can muster, trying to hide my face with my hand whilst folding my other across my body to hide the penguin on my boob. Through my fingers I see that he's sitting at the table reading the newspaper. He can read English newspapers? "Good morning, Nico." I say trying to act nonchalantly. "You're up early." He sips his coffee. I look at Mamma who raises her eyebrows at me with a nod. "Aye don usually sleep-a late-a." He says and I could die of humiliation standing right here. "Ow do you say-a, I ama an errrly bird-a." He rolls his tongue for far too long on the consonant. How does he know what that even means? "Right." I reply and suddenly move out of his line of vision. "Mamma I'll be right back for my coffee." I rush back to the dining room, grab the clothes I'd chosen for today's trip 231

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I picked them last night before Ambra went to bed - and then head up the stairs and directly into the bathroom. I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror as I brush my teeth speedily. Oh. My. God. He saw me like this? He saw me like this! Flyaway pieces of hair poke out at every angle on my head, my eyes look small and tired. As predicted - I look hideous. Oh God. I'm not sure why I care so much, but I do. Regardless of the fact that I have no idea if he is even single, and that I am completely unprepared for any sort of romantic encounter, I still would rather he didn't have to see me in this state of disaster. I get into the shower and thirty minutes later, leave the bathroom fully groomed and dressed. By the time I am ready to take the stairs down, I hear more voices in the kitchen and I make my way back for my coffee. Clara and Gianpaolo are in the kitchen gathering things for a breakfast feast. "Buon giorno." Gianpaolo says as he sees me, I kiss everyone good morning. Nico looks at me up and down as I approach him, and although I feel self conscious, I sort of like it. I tuck my hair behind my ear and bend to kiss him on the cheek, now that my breath is minty fresh. The eye contact between us is so strong, it's like there is no one else in the room. What are you doing Rosella? "Rosella?" Mamma calls me and breaks my gaze. "Yes?" I turn to see her standing there as though she’s been calling for ten minutes… Has she? "Sorry Mamma." I quickly move towards her. "Yes what is it?" She looks back at
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me, confused. She saw, she must have, why else would she look at me like that. I brush it off. "Te, bring-a dis to de table-a." She hands me a tray of cups and small plates. I place them down as Nico smiles at me from the corner of his mouth and pretends to read the newspaper some more. What is happening? My heart is beating so fast I think I might pass out. The table is piled high with delicious breakfast things as always. Papá returns from the Italian Deli with a box full of things; cakes, pasta, biscuits with tiny glacé cherries on top, breads and the finest olive oil. Once everything is put away we sit down together to eat. After breakfast, we pile into the hallway and reach for our coats hanging on the end of banister and leave for our day out in London, I'm super excited to show them around. Ambra grabs my arm as we pace down the street to make our way to Edmonton Green Station. Once we arrive, we make our way to the ticket booth to buy our tickets, people hustling past people rushing to make it to the platform in time before the train leaves. We purchase our tickets and find our way to the correct platform. After a few short minutes the train arrives and we jump on. It's crowded as usual, people standing around waiting for a seat to become available. The train screeches and bumps around on the tracks as we make our way to the infamous Kings Cross Station, holding onto the bar above
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our heads. It begins to slow down as we approach a stop and once it's dead still, a crowd of people burst into the doors and onto the train. We squish together closer until I notice a free seat. At the exact same time, Nico and I rush for it and laugh when we land in a huddle on top of one another. Gianpaolo looks over at us and presses his fingertips to the pad of this thumb and waves it about. This is the Italian signal for - what are you doing? I point to Nico while he points to me and we laugh. I feel his warm thigh next to mine and my breath catches in my throat. Suddenly the seat right beside us becomes vacant and I slide over the red handle bar while people get off the train. "So what ave you been-a doing all deez years-a?" He looks deep into my eyes and I don't know what to say. I force myself out of my daze to reply, "I've just been..." I pause with a flash of my life in the last six months, "living." I say but what I want to say is "surviving". "What about you? What do you do?" I ask, it's all I can do to take the attention away from me. "I am Architect-a." He replies pushing his hand through his dark hair, it falls back perfectly into place. Perfect. He is perfect. "That sounds very interesting." I nod, "I'd love to see some of your work." I must sound so pathetic, “I’d love to…” I do a ditzy impression of myself in my head. "Sorry, I just mean..." my voice trails off. "No, dat wood be-a great-a, Rosella, I wood love-a for you to see-a. my work-s." He smiles at me and looks intently
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into my eyes. I break the stare and see Gianpaolo and Clara engrossed in a loving conversation and then Ambra in much the same eye lock as I, except with Davide... wait… so she has the hots for him? She must... nobody can look at a person like that without feelings being involved. She pulls away and looks over at me, for a split second I know what she's thinking and she knows what I'm thinking. It's like we're reading each other’s thoughts, just like when we were young. When Davide turns away from her face she winks at me in secret. Only she and I know the truth and I know, later, when everyone is in bed she and I will sit up talking all night. I turn back to look at Nico and smile. "So what-a do you-a do?" He asks curiously. "I work for a Beauty and Cosmetic Company as a Sales Executive." I reel off as if I'm about to sell him something. He giggles. "Ah, very good-a." "Your English is very good." I say. "Thank-a-you, I ave a lot of-a American and-a English clientella." He says and I nod. He looks at my hand. "Are-a you married-a?" He points to my ring finger, the finger where my wedding band used to be, where now only a faint line in my skin remains as proof of it's once existence. I'm taken aback by the question for a moment and I don't know how to answer. "Err." I'm lost for words; I look down at my hand and cover it as if to hide the truth. This isn't the time to divulge my life to him, we do have an undeniable connection… an
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attraction even… towards each other, like none other I've ever felt in my life in fact, or at least for a long time... but I can't tell him what happened, can I? What will he think of me? "It's complicated." I say. "I'm-a sorry, I didn't mean-a to be-a nosey." "You're not being nosey." I reply with a shrug. "Are you married?" I ask to even the score, he smiles at me and raises one eyebrow. "No." His eyes examine my face; I feel my body shiver. How can this be happening? He can't be having this affect on me already can he? I hardly know anything about him, what kind of man he is. How can I be feeling like this? His fingers brush past my arm by accident and I feel myself jump with the sensation. It's like electricity or something. The rest of the journey he doesn't say much, perhaps I turned him off by saying my life was too complicated to talk about... but it is. I do want to tell him, I want to tell him every hope and dream I've ever had, something just draws me to him... but I can't. Not now. Let me just hold on to this feeling just a little more before I have to tell him the truth about everything.

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17. The Love Spell
The bobbing and monotonous sound of the tracks beneath us send me into a daydream. Finally we arrive at Kings Cross. We leave the train and find our way onto the main platform to check train times to Hyde Park Corner on the huge screen. Gianpaolo and Clara quickly rush into one of the stores while Nico, Ambra, Davide and I stand side by side in a line with our necks crooked back. Outside is fresh and bright with a pale blue, almost white sky. We step out onto Hyde Park Corner and cross the street to head towards the park. Strolling around taking in the sights, I show them the Diana Princess Of Wales Memorial Walk and we pass the Joy of Life fountain. There is a chilly breeze in the air making the tip of my nose pink. Gianpaolo puts his arm around Clara to keep her warm; she rests her head on his shoulder as they walk in front. Davide and Ambra giggle and tell each other jokes, and as I walk, I feel him sidle up beside me. "Oh." I say as I look up at Nico smiling at me, he is tall beside me, strong looking and handsome. "Are-a you cold-a?" He asks as I rub my arms to warm them. "A little." I shrug. "Can I give-a you my-a jacket-a?" He begins to remove it.
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"No, no please, Nico, I'm fine." I don’t know why I wouldn’t allow a gentleman to be a gentleman, I just feel like relying on a man for anything is a dangerous path to take… even a jacket on a cold day. "Are-a you sure-a?" He tilts his head at me… and at that point I see his eyes, honest eyes… they bring me back to where I used to be before I had my tainted view of love and I know he's truly willing to give me the shirt off his back with no other agenda but to make sure that I’m warm. Oh blast! That only makes me like him all the more… I shouldn't. "I'm sure." I tap his arm. "Thank you." He holds his elbow out to me so I can link my arm under his. I look at it like it might bite… but it’s just his elbow and everyone in Italy walks arm in arm… It’s normal, doesn’t mean anything. I gingerly slip my under his. "We keep warm-a like-a this." He says and squeezes me close. "So tell me about-a your-a complicated life-a, Rosella." I so badly want to tell him that he's gone, that Filippo is gone, but I don't know what to say, how to say it. "Oh Nico, it's far too long of a story and I wouldn't want to bore you with it." I brush it off again. "Let's talk about something interesting, like your life." I laugh and he grins, probably realising that I am avoiding the subject – again. "Do you no, dat aye-a had-a a very big-a crush on-a you when we were-a young?" He says with a glint in his eye and my jaw almost falls to the ground. No, it actually does fall to the ground. He nods and I want to dance around like a
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schoolgirl. "I don't believe you." I reply. He raises his eyebrows in shock and then I say, "No, because I had the biggest crush on you!" I point, as if he doesn’t know who I am or who he is. "You did-a?" He stops walking. "Eh, why you no tell-a me?" "I was shy." I swing my arms like a child. "Me too." He shrugs and I link arms with him again. "Remember that time we went to the Festa in the village hall, I wanted you to ask me to dance but you asked Carla so I hid behind the stack of chairs and watched you, crying!" His brow is furrowed as he thinks back to that night. "Aye confess-a, it-a was to make-a you jealous." He waves his hands about while he explains. "It was? You went to all that trouble to make me jealous?" I laugh. "Yes-a." He replies confidently "I needed-a you to notice-a me, but-a aye didn't know you like-a me too." "Well, now you know!" For a second silence falls between us. I wonder if he is thinking the same as me... If we'd told each other back then, where would we be today? What would our lives hold? Perhaps I'd have never met Filippo and I'd have married Nico… wishful thinking. As we amble around the park, tiny drops of water begin to fall. And then they begin to fall fast until it is drizzling. The six of us run for cover under a huge tree and we huddle together
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to keep warm. Nico puts his arms around me and holds me close; my face rests in his neck. The smell of him close to me ignites my senses. His warm skin pressed up against my lips sends shivers down my spine. I wonder if he could ever feel the same way he used to. I don't want him to let go… I giggle at how silly I feel, pretending that my heart is not beating ten to the dozen as I stand here wrapped in his embrace… I’d forgotten how it felt to be in a man’s arms… I look up to the branches of the tree above us, feeling some of the raindrops that managed to fall between the branches, land onto my face. I hope it keeps raining, but slowly the shower begins to fade and we decide that we should move to our next destination before it really pours down. Then it'll be lunchtime and we'll eat good food and drink hot coffee in Little Italy, that'll warm our cockles. **** They've been here five days and it is becoming more and more difficult to resist Nico. I can count how many teeth show when he smiles… 11 of the most perfectly white teeth gleam back at me from the top row. They love Eva, I introduced her to everyone and she agrees that Nico is "the best thing since sliced bread!" as she put it. And now completely understands why I would never shut up about him when I would return from our summer holidays. The seven of us would hang out and laugh so hard that I almost split my sides. Life just
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couldn't be any better. I finally feel like me again, the old me. And I think I am feeling things for Nico that I have never felt in my entire life, not even with Filippo and I married him so I must have felt something! Just not this. And I deserve to be happy don’t I? I deserve some laughter in my life. Nico and I have been inseparable, we've taken long walks when nobody else wanted to; we've talked for hours at the dinner table when everyone had moved to the living room for an afternoon snooze on the sofa. He showed me some his work, brought his sketchbook with him in his case, says he never goes anywhere without it, and we flicked through it together. Every so often his fingertips brushed against my hand whilst he turned the page and it sent my insides crazy. Even though he hasn't kissed me, I know his lips will feel soft and full against mine, I've dreamt of what it will feel like if he ever does. Everyone can tell that something has developed and continues to develop between us, something special is definitely unfolding, even in the short time we've spent together. And it must seem short, except for the fact that I think I've loved him all my life deep down - I just forgot. It's the craziest feeling in the world, when I look at him I remember how I felt when I was so young and innocent, I had no idea that this flame would ignite in me the moment I laid eyes on him again. It’s fate, it’s meant to be. We talk about our dreams and aspirations. He hasn't asked me about my complicated life since the last time... I guess he figures I'll tell him when I'm good and ready, and I will. But
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we have spoken about my work at Candy and how happy I am to have the independence and my freedom. We spoke about his dreams of designing his very own house in Riva del Garda, which is in the north-western area of Lake Garda in Italy. He tells me that I'd love it there, that when the sun hits the water is glistens and sparkles so beautifully you would think you were in heaven. He says when the sky is blue it's the most beautiful blue he's ever seen, with mountains in the distance and boats dotted about on the brilliant turquoise sea below. The air is fresh and the tall trees dressed in pink flowers make the magical place so picturesque. I can't wait to go. He has invited me and Mamma and Papa to stay when he's finished building it. They love him. I've seen some of the plans and they are truly amazing.

"You must-a make him Tiramisú Figlia." Mamma creeps up behind me as I wait at the table for Nico to return from the rest room. "Mamma, you made me jump." I giggle. "Sta sera." She says, "Tonight you make-a for him." "Ma, what's the big deal?" "Aye tell-a you, if-a you make-a dis he gonna fall in-a lav wid-a you." She stands from her crouched position and points at me "Listen-a to yo madda." She instructs me. "It worked-a for-a me and-a tuo Papa, it will-a work for-a you." She says.
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"Ok, Ok. I'll do it." I laugh as I agree to follow her instructions, even if only to appease her. I can't imagine that he'll take one bite and that'll be it - I'll be his forever. But some people believe in fairytales and Mamma is one of those people. That night Mamma and I set out to prepare dinner, the others, including Eva have popped out with Papa to the local park for an ice cream. Even if it’s a gloomy day like today, we always find an excuse to have ice cream. "Cam on-a, Rosella, you ave-a to make it-a with-a lav." She says as I whisk the Mascarpone, sugar and egg yokes. She taps my arm encouragingly and then moves over to the other worktop to continue to make the cannelloni. Once the cream is ready I begin the layering process chanting a little mantra to myself. "He will fall in love with me, he will fall in love with me, he will fall in love with me." I say over and over under my breath and I dip the lady fingers in the coffee and Sambuca and place them on top of the first layer of cream. I layer and layer until the dish is full then finish with a thick luscious layer of cream. Done. It looks beautiful; I place it in the fridge and keep the cocoa powder close by for the final sprinkle when it's time to serve. Mamma walks over to inspect it. "Fammi vedere." She says as she pulls it back out, waves her hand over it with her eyes closed and whispers something. "Mamma, what are you doing?" I ask curiously, my brow furrowed. Is she a witch or something, trying to cast a
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love spell on Nico? "I ask-a God to make-a dis one-a special, like-a he did-a for-a me." "I don't think the Tiramisú this going to change my life Mamma." I chuckle and move to the sink to wash my hands. "Why-a? You neva no wot could appen." She raises her eyebrows and nods her head at me, as if some sort of magical spell could suddenly be cast from above and my life will be perfect with a perfect man by my side. She approaches me, "Figlia, I just-a want-a you to be appy." She moves my hair off my face with her hand and taps my cheek with her palm. "I just-a don't-a want quello bastardo to ave-a ruin your life-a." That bastard obviously means Filippo. "You still-a young, you can-a find-a love again-a." Her eyes are watery and honest. She really wants me to find love again. And I do too I suppose. Perhaps it is all about what you believe? Maybe if I believe it, it will come to pass... I dry my hands on the cloth over her shoulder. "Thanks Mamma." I give her a kiss and she moves back to pour the final ladle of ragu over the cannelloni in the dish. She sprinkles a healthy helping of Parmigiano over it with a couple of knobs of butter and declares it ready for the oven. Mamma, the only person in my life that has so much hope, so much belief in me, I could cry at the thought of her and how wonderful a mother she is. I believe with my whole heart she doesn't want me to grow old alone, she wants me to be with someone, someone she knows I deserve. I just wish I did.
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Time passes and soon enough the clan returns from their outing, their cheeks flushed from the brisk walk. They remove their coats while Mamma and I begin to dish up the food. My stomach does a flip as I remember my desert in the fridge. He will fall in love with me, he will fall in love with me, he will fall in love with me, I chant in my head. "Si Manga." Mamma tells them, it's time to eat. They pile into the dining room and sit at their usual seats, steaming hot plates of Cannelloni before each of them. For seconds we have bistecca con fagiolini e patate... then my Tiramisú. My heart pounds as we all munch our way through the meal, all the while Nico's eyes are on me and mine on him. Mamma calls me into the kitchen to sprinkle the cocoa powder over the top. "You ave-a to do." She says handing me the small metal sieve and pushing the cocoa powder to me. Talk about superstitious! I take the sieve from her and begin my sprinkling, soon enough the top of the Tiramisú is coated in a thick layer of chocolate powdery delight... Mamma waves her hand over it again and turns away. As she does, I give it a silent hand wave too for good measure. "Less go-a." She says, carrying a stack of plates in her hand. We walk into the dining room and I place the Tiramisú in front of me to begin serving it. Everybody loves it, even I have to admit it is delicious. The choir of mmmms coming from the table is quite satisfying. Nico peers over at me from under his eyelashes for longer than is really necessary and then winks. I melt of course but don't
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show him that. Is it working? Is the magic working? I wonder to myself as I watch Nico's every move. He eats spoon after spoon of it. When his bowl is empty, he asks for more. Mamma looks over at me with wide eyes and nods surreptitiously. Mamma, Eva and I begin to clear the table, the rest pile into the living room to begin the digestion ritual, which inevitably ends up in a nap. "Mamma, what now?" Eva looks over at us curiously. "What now, what?" She asks, confused. "Ma? How will we know if it's worked? Am I supposed to see signs?" I try "Because I see nothing, niente, nada, zilch! I don't think it's worked." "Cos'è zilch-a?” I wave it off and she resumes talking, “You ave-a to wait bella mia." She says, "You got to be-a patient." "What? Why do you have to be patient?" Eva quizzes, perplexed by our conversation. "Mamma is convinced that the Tiramisú has got some special powers or something!" I shrug. "Special powers?" She laughs, "What, am I going to turn into a princess? Ha!" "She says that when she met Papá, she made him her special Tiramisú and that it was the way to his heart, she believes that if it is made with love and patience, Nico will fall head over heels for me, like Papá did for her." I explain.
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"But special powers?" She says doubtfully. "Ok magical," I say "is that a better word?" "Magical powers - still sounds a little far fetched." She replies. "You will-a see-a." Mamma says waving her finger around confidently. "Just-a you wait and-a see." Eva leaves around two hours later and eventually everyone except for Nico and I go to bed. We stand in the kitchen opposite one another drinking hot chocolate and talking about nothing special but deep into it. He tells me about going out for long rides on his motorino down the small cobbled streets. I remember them so well. I miss the sunshine on my skin, what we get here in England is not even close to enough. "Rosella." He says suddenly in his deep sexy voice, while I'm dreaming of the sunset in the distance, he and I cruising down the street with the wind flapping through my hair poking out of my silk head scarf, worn a la Grace Kelly… large black sunglasses over my eyes, holding onto him. “Rosella?” I shake it off. "Yes?" I look back at him and take a sip from my mug. "Do you feel-a how I feel-a?" I spurt hot chocolate back into my mug. "What do you mean?" I know what he means… I don't know why I said that. He looks at me intently, his grey eyes sultry and deep, his eyelashes long and dark. His lips part and I cannot speak, he moves closer.
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"Do you feel-a for me?" His face is so close I can feel his sweet breath on my lips, his eyes on mine… I pout my lips ready for his. The tip of his nose brushes against mine and I feel weak. For a moment I think I might pass out with lust. I want him to kiss me so badly that I can hardly breathe. But what am I doing? I can't. What about...? My breath quick and shallow, my heart pumping hard, so hard I can feel it in my ears. "Yes." I whisper back at him, unable to hold back or fight my feelings any longer. He presses his body close to me and his lips slowly touch mine, allowing me to feel the warmth of his mouth. His hands come up to my face and his fingers run through my hair. Oh God, Oh God. I close my eyes to enjoy his soft kisses to my lips. Slowly he pulls away, he looks at me and I feel flushed. "I should-a go to bed-a." He says and I know he doesn't want to leave me. I don't want to leave him, but it's the right thing to do. "Can aye-a kiss-a you tomorrow too?" He smiles and so do I. "Of course." I reply shyly. "Buonanotte." He leans forward again and kisses me one last time before he turns to leave. "Buonanotte." I reply. As he closes the door behind him I jump so high in the air that I land with a thud and giggle to myself as I dance about like a girl. Did it work? Did Mamma's Tiramisú work? I don't know and I don't care. Right now, at this very moment, I am so
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happy I could scream, but it's far too late for any of that. I twirl around on the spot and stop when I begin to feel dizzy, dizzier than I already feel without spinning. Now I have tomorrow's kiss to dream about and won't that be a fabulous dream.

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18.  So  long,  Farewell
Mamma and Papá are preparing for a barbecue today; it's the day before the family leave - before Nico leaves. And while I am happy that they will be experiencing Papá's fabulous ribs and Mamma's mouth watering Melanzane alla Parmigiana, I am sad that their trip as come to an end. So it’s farewell, tomorrow afternoon they leave for Italy with promises to return very soon, and Nico assures me he will be back in no time, that things won’t change between us while he is away. We have developed such a strong bond; I don’t know how I’ll cope with him gone. I tried not to feel this way but I couldn't help it. It's like something has taken over, inside of me and I can't even go through the day without thinking of him or wanting to be with him. The day is bright and warm, which gives me an excuse to wear my new turquoise dress and have my hair up, exposing my neck. There are dishes and dishes of seasoned meat ready to go on the fire outside in the garden; Papá stands before the iron rack poking the coals, waiting for it to be ready. Mamma and I have made pasta salad, rice salad, potato salad and almost every other salad you can think of. The table is set out al a buffet style, pushed up against the wall in the dining room. There are bowls of olives, baskets of fresh breads, plates of tomatoes and mozzarella, sliced, drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with Oregano, the food is never ending… but that’s really nothing
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new in our house. All of the barbecues we host in our back garden have forever and will always consist of too much food, lots of eating, dancing and loud music! Luckily our neighbours are pretty cool with the noise. Papá plays a mixed CD, his all time favourite - Dean Martin - is currently pumping through the speakers and various other oldies but goodies from his Italian collection. The songs play from the hi-fi and speakers he’s put together on his plastic wheel-able trolley. It sits outside by the garage window where he feeds the cable through and plugs it into the socket in the garage wall. The remote control he holds in the back pocket of his Chinos and never lets it out of his sight! The stereo is his domain. Everyone is mingling and chatting over the music, enjoying the warm sunshine on their backs while they wait for the meat to be cooked. For once, the weather is holding out. Thank God, I couldn’t bear our last day together being dull and grey, it would only make me feel worse. Whilst I am in the kitchen with Mamma the doorbell rings, it's Eva. She joins the rabble of people. Of course Gianpaolo, Clara, Ambra, Davide and Nico are here but Mamma and Papá have also invited some of their close friends: The Agnoli's, they live at the end of our street. Beppe D'Arcangelo; he's known Papá for years now, works at the mechanics Papá take his car to for its regular service. He stands, sipping a glass of wine with dark engine oil and grime under his short stubby nails, his hair combed to one side in a wide parting, he looks a little rigid in his short sleeved Hawaiian style shirt. His wife beside him tapping her foot to the music, she's quite glamorous actually,
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with auburn hair and red full lips - quite an odd pair really, but Papá and Beppe go way back and that counts in our community. Mr. and Mrs. Rinaldi - also very close friends of Mamma and Papá and often frequent the dinner dances at the local church hall together. The house is buzzing and the atmosphere is warm and bubbly. Papá takes a lot of pride in his garden and this is one of those times that he must look around at all of his growing vegetables and the pink roses he so delicately spritzes almost every morning, and is proud of the time he's spent out here. The Hydrangeas have flowered perfectly into a beautiful pale purple colour and line the wall in one corner of the garden. I must admit, even though we do make fun of Papá and his beloved garden, it is very pretty and full of useful things. The smell of the Thyme and Basilico growing in their pots wafts around the garden on this summery day, Mamma picked some of the basil to add to the tomato salad as well as other dishes. Useful - you see... Most Italian households, given the option would choose a useful garden over a pretty one, for Papá, growing his own fruits and vegetables has been something he has been doing since he was a boy in his village in Italy. Some things will never change. Eva joins the rest of the people and picks up her aperitif of Campari and Lemonade from the tray. A decorative slice of lemon floats on the top of the tall, thin glass. Nico sneaks up behind me as I'm cutting more panella bread for the baskets. He squeezes me tightly as he nibbles on my neck lovingly while Mamma faces the other way. I tap his arm for him to release
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me so that Mamma doesn't catch us canoodling. That's the furthest we've gotten... The thing I love about Nico is that he never pressures me to do anything, not even talk to about what makes me uncomfortable let alone having any sort of relations prior to the time I feel ready to do so... and I don't think I will ever feel ready under Mamma and Papá's roof to be frank, the thought alone fills me with guilt. The day is perfect. Guests are outside picking at the olives, the crisps and the large bowl of dry roasted peanuts while they talk amongst themselves as the music plays. The moment Massimo Ranieri begins to sing, Mr. and Mrs. Rinaldi begin to sway in each other’s arms, she rests her head on his shoulder as he clutches her hand in his and holds it to his heart. Then Gianni Morandi comes on, In Ginocchio Da Te, and even Papá taps his foot and bobs his head and while turning the bistecca and ribs, he sings the words. "Io voglio per me le tue carezze, si Io t'amo piu della mia vita." Mamma approaches him and he puts the tongs down to dance with her. They sway just like I imagine they did when they were young in the 60's and were falling in love. It brings tears to my eyes to see them so in love after so long. We all watch them dance and then a moment later, Nico puts his hand out to me and asks me to dance. I take his hand and he turns me into his arms in one swift movement, then moves us left and right slowly in time to the music. He holds me close to him and I can feel the warmth of his skin on mine. Eva and Ambra throw me a thumbs-up and
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then the song ends and everyone claps. Nico kisses me gently on the cheek and I hold him close to me for a moment longer, smelling him, taking him in, because after today, I don’t know when I will be able to hold him close again, I want to remember his smell and his warmth like my life depends on it… I know I will miss him so much when he is gone. He has awoken something inside of me that I thought could never be woken again, not ever again… but he has, and here I stand. We pull apart and the look he gives me tells me he's thinking the same as me. Straight after that, Quando, Quando, Quando by Tony Renis comes on and the elders burst into mambo steps, including Mamma and Papá. And although I haven't discussed my feelings for Nico with Papá, I'm sure that Mamma has filled him in, he winks at me as if to say, “you be o-right-a figlia!” With no objection from him, I feel free to let my emotions unravel. Gianpaolo squeezes my arm in approval and winks at me too as I move past him to Ambra and Eva, nattering in the corner about her and Davide, she's worse than a schoolgirl, but then, so am I. From outside I hear my mobile phone ringing. It vibrates loudly against the mahogany side table in the living room. I rush inside to answer it. Mamma flies passed me to grab something that smells delicious out of the oven. I look at the brightly lit screen, it reads: Unavailable. I wonder who this could be? I press the green button to answer.
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"Hello?" I answer curiously. "Hello? It's Michael, can you talk?" The voice is quiet and husky, deep. "Michael?" I ask. I don't know a Michael. "I'm sorry, I think you may have the wrong number, Sir." "No, Rosella, it's M.J Banks... Michael?" Oh, that Michael. Whatever could he want, calling me after such a long time? Perhaps he's looking for payment, even though he never did find Filippo... the deal was he would have to find him - he's not getting a penny out of me. A deal's a deal. "Oh, I'm sorry Michael, it's been such a long time, I didn't recognise your voice." "It's okay. Can you talk?" His voice sounds preoccupied, antsy, on edge even. "Err, yes, hold on." I move into the hallway where no one can hear me and I can no longer hear the music. "Is everything alright?" I ask, feeling as if perhaps I won't really want to know the answer to that question. "Rosella, I have some news for you." His voice still low as though he has a secret, a very big secret. "Okay, what is it?" Maybe he's finally found proof of Filippo's death and wants to break it to me gently. A lump forms in my throat and I suddenly feel quite anxious myself, and truth be told, guilty for caring for another man. "I've found him." He says with stiffness in his voice. "Dead?" I ask, the one word blurting from my mouth, repeating my thoughts. My heart pumps hard in my chest.
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"I need you to sit down, Rosella." Shit. He is dead. Oh God. And although I sort of thought it, I haven’t had someone confirm it before - Rosella, your husband is definitely dead - but now... was he murdered? My throat feels tight, my tongue dry. This is terrible, horrible. "Okay, I'm sitting, just say it, Michael." I perch on the edge of a stair. "I've found Filippo, Rosella and he is alive." "What?" My breath catches in my chest. Wait, alive? I hadn’t prepared myself for that, I’d prepared for him being dead… not alive. My eyes bulge from their sockets and I stare into the middle distance, confused... bewildered. "He's alive?" I repeat, just to be sure I heard him correctly. "Yes." I hear the words but I don't believe what I'm hearing. He's alive? ALIVE? How can he be alive and not be here with me? How can he be on this earth and have me go through the pain I’ve endured these past months. How? Why? "There's more." He says as I feel my body sink down the step and onto the floor beneath it, my legs stretched out before me like a still lifeless doll. What does he mean alive? How can he be alive? And, how could there be more? More evidence of him walking out and leaving me stranded with all the pain and debt. Why because he couldn't bare it any longer? Why? Why? How could there possibly be more? I remain quiet, waiting to hear it, bracing myself. "He's married. He's been married to someone else for two years." I drop the phone from my ear and it lands with a thud on the floor between my legs,
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but doesn't break. My shoulders begin to judder on their own; my chest feels like it's caving in, I can't breathe. My heart is breaking all over again. How? How can this be? How can he be married to another woman and to me at the same time? I don't believe it. I can't. Surely I'd have seen signs or something? That's when I reach for the phone again quickly, realising that he must have found the wrong person. He must have. Filippo must be dead, because he I would’ve known if he was married to another woman, don’t you think I’d have noticed? I put the phone to my mouth again. "You must have it wrong, Michael. I'd have known if he was even seeing someone else, let alone married to someone else. What do to take me for, a fool? Surely I would know something like that." My voice is harsher than I mean it to be. Deep inside me something just doesn't feel right, and so even though I sit here and tell him he has it wrong, I know there must be truth in his accusation. He has his picture. He’s a private investigator for Christ’s sake! I can’t imagine he would phone me up to tell me something like this if there was even a slim chance that he’d got it wrong. "Rosella, I'm sorry to bring this news to you, I know this is hard to hear but I know for sure it is him. I even visited his offices in Hertfordshire and posed as somebody looking for insurance specifically to ascertain whether it was really him or not. I had to go, to confirm my findings; I had to be sure. And Rosella…" he pauses "It's definitely him, I even took the picture
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you gave me along with me so I had his face engraved in my mind." "But..." I squeak, barely able to contain my emotions. "How could this have happened?" My voice higher than its usual tone. Suddenly, I hear fast footsteps and I quickly wipe my tears from my wet cheeks. It's Mamma, she looks on at me, her brow furrowed with worry. "Che successo?" She asks, rubbing my shoulder to comfort me. "I have pictures and evidence for you to see, I will give you all the information I have." He says down the phone and all I can think of is getting to his office somehow to see them. What will I tell Nico? He barely knows of my failed marriage let alone what I went through. I don't even know how I feel right now, I can't take falling apart again; my body won't take it. My heart throbs with pain. I have to figure out what happened; I need to know. I must escape and go to Michael's office right away to see the evidence he has. I won't be able to function from going out of my mind with anxiety. "I'll be right over." I put the phone down and stand up, even though my legs feel like jelly beneath me, I find a way, somehow, to walk. "Figlia?" Mamma calls after me and I turn to look at her, my face like stone. "I have to go to work Mamma." I lie, I don't know why, perhaps it's because I didn't tell anyone about M.J.Banks and the ridiculous lengths I went to to find the man I loved. The
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man who so easily walked out on me and all this time I believed we were more than that, that he thought and cared more for me than to just shun me to the side and start a new life with someone else. What a fool I am. What a coward is he.

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19. Finders Weepers, Losers Weepers!
I feel sick to my stomach. My vision is blurry and my head fuzzy from the short, sharp breaths I've been taking to steady my nerves. The lump in my throat is larger than ever before. I feel sick, so sick. I step outside through the back door and into the garden, hardly knowing what I will say to Nico. How can I leave now… on their last day here? It’s not fair that I have to choose, stay or go. How can I just go, God knows when I will see Nico again. I won't be able to hide the discomfort in my eyes. They'll wonder why I am fleeing so suddenly, what I have to do that is so important that I have to leave when I should be with them. Papa will give me a disapproving look and Mama will look all the more suspiciously at me. I can’t explain now, I will later, I promise. I just can't face the questions right now, especially when I don't have the answers to them. I just have to leave. "Listen, I'm sorry everyone,” I announce, “I've been called in to work, there's been an emergency and my boss has asked me to go in." I try hard to put on a normal face. Nico smiles back at me but his eyes look confused, like he knows something is wrong. Eva, the same - her face, disgruntled. "Oh no, che peccato." Clara says, her fingers entwined around Gianpaolo's. "I know, I'm so sorry, I'll be back as soon as I can. Shouldn't be more than a few hours." I shrug acting as natural as possible but inside I’m breaking, breaking all over again. It’s
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lucky we’re outside in the garden, otherwise I would feel as if the walls were caving in on me. I try hard to fight back the tears, at least until I'm in the car, alone. "Enjoy all the food." As predicted, Mamma and Papa look suspicious, they know I'm lying, they should know, they know me well enough to know I'm a bad liar, they say I sniff when I lie and I try so hard not to, but I know they still know - it's written all over my face. I just need to run away from all of this, I need to think. Find out the humiliating truth before everyone else finds out. Nico follows me into the living room while I collect my bag. "Bella?" He whispers, I love it when he calls me beautiful. He strokes my cheek with the back of his hand, then feeds it through hair and rests it at the nape of my neck. He stares deep into my eyes; I can tell he doesn’t know what to think. I have to leave, I have to get out of here. "Is everything ok-ay?" He asks, reaching for my hand and placing it on his chest over his heart. "Are you Ok-ay, tesoro?" "Yes, yes. I'm fine." I lie again; I'm certainly not fine. "I'll be back as soon as I can." I caress the side of his face and stare back, deep into his eyes for too long. "Rosella." He stops me as I turn to leave. I look back at him and realise that I probably don't even deserve him. "I'll-a be here-a... If-a you need..." His voice trails off, "ti aspetto." He says and leans forward, kissing me softly on the lips. "Thank you." I reply and then leave him standing there. Mamma stands in the hallway waiting for me to give her the real reason I am leaving... she knows it's something... and not
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work, she can sense it. "Goodbye Mamma." I kiss her on the cheek and her eyes grow wide. Even I think that sounded final, like I wouldn't be coming back. She moves close to me and pulls my arm to her so my ear is near her lips. "Is he back?" She whispers, and I almost choke. How did she know? She looks back at me for an answer, agog. Mamma has always had a strange insight to things, she trusts her senses, her gut, and she's usually never far off. I want to burst into tears and fall to the ground in a heap but I can't. I've come so far from that woman. I cannot fall apart again. I cannot. "I'll explain when I get back." I tell her and she nods, knowing that she is right. She knows that only something as big as Filippo could rock my world again. I wasn't fair on Nico, I've hardly told him anything of this; he will be hurt that I didn't explain. I would be hurt if I were him! I should've told him about Filippo, but when? I didn't want to spoil what had only just begun, the feelings I was having were so perfect that I didn't want to ruin it by drudging up my painful past. I wanted to hold onto that feeling forever, with nothing around that could taint it. I drive fast towards M.J. Banks' office and almost run two red lights from not concentrating. My wheels locked as I pressed my foot hard on the break at the last minute and my car
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ended up skidding past the white line, forcing my heart in my mouth. I made myself slow down after that. I go over and over what Michael said in my mind, over and over the fact that Filippo is alive. He's alive. Nothing can take away this anger building inside me, I feel like I want to scream but when I try I realise that I can't even speak, just cry and whine like a helpless dog. So many words come to my mind but nothing will come out of my mouth. My thoughts are in another time, a time when Filippo and I were together, when we shared a life, when he came home to me every night. My heart is back at our honeymoon, our wedding night, our home, in front of the fire snuggled up together. And even though there were bad times, and God knows there were bad times, I miss him all over again and I feel betrayed and broken. Humiliated. He hasn't called, hasn't written, doesn't care. He just abandoned me. Walked away from us. Left me here alone, struggling. I just don't understand what I could've done that was so bad that he could get up and leave, never to return. What must I have done to make him fall into another woman's arms? But he didn't just fall... he married her. Tears roll down my face no matter how hard I try to stop them. They fall and fall and fall and won't stop. Finally I arrive at the frosted glass window again at the top of the dark wooden creaky staircase, in the dark building. M.J. Banks' office. I knock on the door and wait. He calls me in.
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"Ah, Rosella." He says with a cigar in between his fingers, stubbing it out as I walk into the office still laden with papers. "Come in, sit down." His face is sincerely concerned. I walk further into the room and up to the half beaten leather chair, then sit, my hands shaking. He looks exactly the same as he did all those weeks ago, still as though he's slept here all night. His bushy grey eyebrows knitted together, his scruffy hair hasn't seen a comb in days and stubble that looks as abrasive as sandpaper. "Here." He says as he hands me a file. I stare at the tan-coloured outside of it; my quivering hands take it with clammy palms and a pounding heart, so fast that I feel it might pack up. I place my hand on the top as though I will be able to feel what's inside without flipping back the cover - save myself from the details. Warn myself, maybe it will reduce the amount of shock I will feel. I think hard before I look inside. What will I do if it is him? Do I really want to know? Is it him? But it can't be. It must be. Then, I gingerly pull back the cover. Gasping, I throw my hands to my mouth. Suddenly my breathing becomes rapid and shallow, I feel light-headed again and like I might throw up. It's him. It's definitely him. My eyes fill with tears. What kind of a man does this? "And this is...?" I point to the woman in the pictures. Blonde hair, pretty - Nothing like me. Which, I suppose is the reason he's with her.
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"Her name is Anne." Michael says sympathetically, and I’m not sure why I need to know that, somehow it humanizes her all the more. "That is his other wife." I still can't believe it. Maybe he just had a meeting with this lady? Maybe a long lost cousin? I just can’t see how this could have happened. How can a man even have two wives in this country? How did I not see, not notice that he had someone else? For two years! I know that things were tough for us, but this... this is not something I would have ever expected from him. I feel so betrayed, so hurt. All I can do is sit, very very still, in my own pain and belittlement as I stare out into the middle distance wondering what I'm supposed to do now. What exactly I’m supposed to do now that my life is in complete disarray… again. Just when things were good, he has to come and ruin everything for me again.

Eventually I find my words. "How did you find him?" I say out of a half opened mouth. "With great difficulty. He's changed his name. He goes by Phil Jordan now." Phil Jordan. I repeat in my head with disgust. He was always trying to be something he wasn’t. He clears his throat and continues. "One day I typed his name into my search engine, frantic as to why I couldn't find him. By sheer fluke I miss typed his name and hit enter before I realised. All the usual avenues were coming up empty so I was searching for clues and I noticed that someone had spelt his last name
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incorrectly in an old article for Pride & Brimley: J.o.r.d.a.n.o... it got me thinking. I began typing his name in using different spellings and when I typed Philip Jordan, I found his picture above his name on the Jackhill & Co website." He points to papers in front of me. When I don't reply, Michael says, "Rosella, are you Ok?" "No, I really don't think I am. Could I please have a glass of water?" As he jumps up, I look through the other bits of evidence in the file. His place of work, an address, a phone number. His home address, his home phone number. Other pictures of him and her. I see wedding rings on their fingers, holding hands, kissing, eating together at a restaurant. I can't bring myself to stare at them for too long. First I feel sick, then I feel a sudden urge for answers. Why? Why would he do this to me? "I'm so sorry." Michael says handing me the paper cup filled with water from his dispenser, he genuinely seems hurt for me. "Thank you." I take the water from him and have a sip. There is nothing he, nor anyone else can do to remove this pain, this feeling of worthlessness, this feeling of failure... I failed to be a good enough wife to my husband so looked elsewhere. I’m the worst wife in the world. I should tell Nico to run while he still has the chance. When I came to Michael all those months ago, I didn't expect to hear something like this... Even hearing that he was more than likely dead was less hurtful... I know that sounds
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selfish but if he was dead then I wouldn’t feel like this. It wouldn’t have been all my fault. I wouldn’t be hating myself. But being this calculating come from a man with no heart. This doesn't just reflect on him and what a bad person he is, it reflects on me too. What will people think, that I drove him to it? That I was a bad wife, that I never gave him what he needed? Is that the truth? I don't know if I can go through this heartache again. I write out a cheque for Michael for the remaining balance, thank him for his services and leave the office with the file of evidence clutched between my fingers. Once I'm back in the car, all I can do is cry. My mascara burns my eyes and my nose runs. I flick back the folder again and look at the picture of him and her, Anne. I hold it between my fingers and stare at his face, it's like I hardly recognise him. The man in this photograph can't be the same man I married. Underneath the picture in the file, I spot his new place of work: Jackhill & Co in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire. I have to find him. I have to see his face, ask him why. What else can I do? I can't just leave it; let him get away with it. No. I have to go and there is no time like the present. It's Friday afternoon, if he's anything like the old Filippo he will be there. All the way there, I drive with the constant thought of turning back and letting him get on with his new life, without any closure, no resolution, but my foot remains pressed to the gas pedal and my hands firmly on the wheel, heading towards his office - I can't go back. I follow the directions I'd pulled up on
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my phone and pray that it will get me there. And when I do, I will simply ask him why, that's it. I just want to know why he did this. I look at my watch and notice the time: 3:00pm. Philbloody-Jordan, I mumble to myself as I take a corner. Bloody charlatan!

I check the address I'm at against the address on the paper, seems I've arrived. My heart beats so hard in my chest I feel it might be visible through my dress. I pull up into the car park and wait. I'm not sure what I am waiting for, perhaps for some courage to surface. I pick up my phone and decide to dial the office number to see if he is there or not and I hope to God that I didn't travel all this way for nothing. It's 4:30pm, he must be there; he never used to leave work until at least seven or eight. "Good afternoon, Jackhill & Co." The lady's voice answers and I quickly void the call. I didn't expect someone to answer so swiftly, I haven't thought of what I'm going to say. Shit. Ok, Hello, is Mr Jordan… Hello, may I speak with Phil… right, I'm ready, I redial the number. "Good afternoon, Jackhill & Co." "Hello, may I speak with Mr Phil Jordan please." I ask in my most convincing Mrs Doubtfire voice. It's the only one I can think of and the only other voice I can do that sounds genuine. I've watched the film more than a dozen times. Filippo would know it was me if he heard it, but she'll never
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know. "I'm afraid he is on the other line at the moment." She replies perkily and thank God he is. But he's there! He's there. "Ohhhh dear, nevermind." I warble. "I will call back later. Thank youuuu." "Would you like to leave a message?" "No thank you dear." I reply, sounding much older than my years. "Can you tell me though, what time will he be leaving the office today?" "He usually leaves at 5:00pm on Friday's so if you call back within the next thirty minutes you'll catch him." Excellent. I'll wait right here until he leaves and catch him unawares. "Ooooh thank you dear." I reply "Ta-ta now." "Bye." I put the phone down. How I managed to pull that off I don't know. It's a shame he never left at 5:00pm on Fridays when he was coming home to me! I think to myself, as I grip the steering wheel harder under my fingers. I tap my foot furiously, racked with nerves. I sit low in my car making sure only my eyes are visible over the steering wheel. The time ticks by slowly so I decide to text Eva in the meantime to let her know that I'm okay.
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but I am fine.

I will be back soon.

Ro x

A few moments later my phone bleeps.
Oh Darling! Okay, please be safe.

I will be here when you return. Call if you need me. SSWM.

Ev x

Secret safe with me – I smile for a second… that’s why Eva is and always will be my best friend. As I put my phone down on the seat beside me I look up… Oh God, there he is, he's leaving the building. My heart races again. It's him, he's there, right in front of me and I am stuck to my chair. He's wearing a new navy suit and looks as strapping as he always did. His hair gelled back and his face as handsome as ever. I have to move now before he reaches his car and drives away. I can’t, I can’t… No, no… what will I say? I shake myself out of my stare and quickly open my door, slamming it behind me. I run up behind him and call his name. "Filippo." I say, loud enough for him to hear. My dress seems awfully inappropriate now - here in this dull car park - it was fine when I was in the sunshine of the Barbecue. I pat my hair down as he stops dead still in his tracks, he holds his briefcase tightly in his hand, his back to me. He knows it's me, even before he's turned and laid eyes on me. I can feel his tension, he knows. Slowly, he turns around and looks me right in the eye. "How did you find me? What are you doing here?" He
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says, his voice cold and abrupt. He looks around nervously as if he wouldn't want his colleagues to see him talking to me. "That's all you have to say to me? After all that's happened, after all this time?" "What do you want?" His voice a devilish growl. I stare back at him, open mouthed, in disbelief. The man is remorseless, his face is like stone. "You need to leave." He says before turning on his heels. "Wait. Filippo." I jog a few steps to catch up with him. Desperate. "You can't just go." I grab his arm and he pulls it away quickly, harshly. "Get off. Leave me alone, Rose." He says firmly. "I left you for a reason, I never wanted to see you again!" Just then, my heart shatters into a million pieces. Tears flood my eyes. "Just go." He stares back at me with vengeance in his eyes and suddenly something comes over me, before I know it I’ve whacked him so hard across his suited chest that I’m hammer punching the living daylights out of him. Tears pouring down my face. “How could you? How could you?” I cry and he grabs both wrists and squeezes them so tightly that I can feel my skin burning under his grip. “LEAVE ROSE.” He yells through gritted teeth. "My name is ROSELLA.” I yell. He looks back at me with frustration. “Tell me why? Tell me why you did this? I thought you were dead!” I wrangle my wrist free and attempt another thwack but he catches it again. “What did I do that was
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so terrible that you could abandon me like that… our lives together? How could you have married someone else?" His face is surprised. "I know everything." I sniff. "Don't you even think about telling her." He says whilst pushing me back, away from him. His eyes look evil while his warning finger points at me, close to my face, like he would do something terrible if I were to. "She will never believe you over me." He says, dismissing me like a worthless piece of crap. "I will tell her you are an bitter old girlfriend desperate for my affections and that you'll say anything to ruin my life." “Ruin your life? Ruin your life!” My voice gets louder again. “You selfish bastard.” He raises his eyebrows and looks away like he doesn’t care what I think and I watch him like I am seeing the real him for the first time. "What have you become? I came here today to understand how you could do such a thing, leave me in all that debt, your debt, piling up to my eyeballs... how you could turn your back on us, on all the years we spent together?" I can't help but cry. "And all you can do is treat me like this? No explanations?" "Rose, I stopped loving you a long time ago." "When? About the time you married her?" His eyes grow big as he clenches his jaw. “Why did you tell me? We could’ve worked through our problems. But no, you had to be greedy didn’t you?” "Yes." He replies sternly. "Anne is everything you are not." He lifts his head and lowers his eyes at me. "I made a choice, now DEAL WITH IT." Rage pours out of him and he
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turns again to leave. I just stand still, glued to the spot. My mouth half open, my mind full of things I want to say but I can't, I can't speak for my broken heart. My lips move but nothing is coming out. I watch him reverse a car I don't recognise and watch him drive away from me. When he's out of sight, I drag my feet back to my car and sit in it until the tears subside and my breathing is back to normal. I pull out of my parking space and head for home. There is nothing else I can do here. On the journey, I think about are his words. Anne must be in the dark as much as I was. He warned me not to tell her, he threatened me, she mustn't know. I press my foot hard on the accelerator and whizz through the traffic, taking side streets and short cuts. All I can think of doing is the precise thing he told me not to. I have to tell her, she has to know... If she were me and she knew what I know, I would want her to tell me. This can't be legal, being married to two people at the same time. How can I let him get away with this? I can't.

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20. Foul Play
It's late, 7:00pm by the time I arrive back home. I know the barbecue is probably over by now. The street is dusky as I drive up and park the car. What will I say? I will have to explain, they will want to know where I've been. I dry my tears and try to pull myself together before I go in. I clutch the folder in my hand and enter the house and make my way to the living room and everyone but Mamma, Eva and Nico are sleeping, gently snoring comfortably. "Hi." I whisper. Nico jumps up first, being the first to spot me, Mamma and Eva follow and we convene in the kitchen. "Rosella, wot da hell-a go on?" Mamma doesn't sound too happy. She's been worried sick, I can tell by her eyes. "We were-a worried." Nico rubs my arm gently. Shit how am I going to explain this to everyone? I don't even know where to start. Eva looks at me, painfully concerned about what I'm about to say. "Can we sit down?" I ask and we all make our way to the table. "I'm sorry I couldn't tell you before I left, I had a lot on my mind." "What's going on?" Eva interjects. "Filippo." I say and take a deep breathe. I look down at the tablecloth. "Chi e' Filippo?" Nico asks and I don't even want to
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say who he is, or was even. "Nico, Filippo e il marito di Rosella." Mamma explains gently and thank God she did because I would surely have stumbled on my words. Nico's face is not shocked since he already asked about the faint band on my finger. He ‘d surely figured out that I was married, but clearly didn't realise that in fact, I still am! "They found him." I press my fingertips on the brown folder to make sure it's still on my lap. "Who found-a him-a?" Mamma looks confused. "After I went to the Police about his disappearance and they said they couldn't help, I hired a private investigator." I say, lowering my head in shame. "Uhhhhhhh." Mamma gasps. "Is he-a dead?" Her face pale with her hand over her mouth. "What 'appen to him-a? I don’t-a understand-a" Nico asks. "One-a day, he go to work-a and he neva come-a back." Mamma explains for me again. "Widout even a word-a. Gonea." Ashamed, I pick my fingernails as she runs through the most difficult time of my life. She tells him of the debt he left behind, of how I had to return home because Filippo had left me stranded with bills to pay and no money to pay them. I'm so embarrassed and I suppose having Mamma do all the talking is the easy way out but I just don’t think my words would come out right right now. Eva reaches for my hand across the table and holds it while a tear pricks my cheek. Nico looks angry; I
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can see him clenching his jaw while Mamma talks. "Is-a he dead-a? If he no dead, aye kill-a ‘im-a my selfa!" Nico shouts furiously. He stands up, pushing the chair away with the backs of his legs. "Nico..." All I can do is call his name through my tears. He looks back at me, confused by my reaction, by the expression on my face. He looks hurt. He moves away to the window to calm down, still close enough to hear me. Finally I'm able to push past the tears, "He's not dead. He was found living in Broxbourne and he works for a company called Jackhill & Co." I pause, waiting to tell them the last part while they look on at me, agog. "He’s married.” Mamma gasps so loudly that it startles me. She fans herself with her hand while they wait for me to finish. “He's been married to another woman for the last two years." I sniffle into my tissue and mop away my tears as they fall. I pull out the file from my lap and show them the photos of him and Anne... "He can't-a be, he married to a-you-a." Mamma says, until she sees the photos. "Nooooo." She gasps again, throwing both her hands to her face. "No. No. No." She says, tears streaming down her rosy cheeks. "Ma, Com' e'?" She cries and seeing her in such distress breaks me more. Papa rushes in when he hears Mamma wailing. Eva explains what's happened while I hold Mamma in my arms and we cry on each other's shoulders. She is distraught that he could do something like this. To me… to the family. Eva hugs Papa and Nico paces the room. Unsure of what to do, he remains in the background.
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Later, the whole house knows of the news but no one says much as I've made it pretty clear I don't really want to think about it. Papa consoles Mamma and Eva is so angry that she had to leave and take a walk. While I sit in the kitchen Nico comes in and puts his hand on my shoulder. I feel terrible; this is an awful end to a wonderful holiday - all because of me. Tomorrow they will be gone; he will be gone. "Rosella." His face seems cold but his eyes reveal his true feelings. "Aye think-a dat you still-a lav-a him-a." His brow furrows and his lips downturn. "No. Nico. Don't." I say, covering his lips with my fingertips. "Please." I don't want to hear him say it. He's breaking it off with me. "Rosella, you no aye care-a about-a you... so much-a." He says, burying his head in my neck. "But-a aye believe-a you need-a to deal-a wid dis before-a you can move on-a." He brushes my cheek with the pad of his thumb and I shake my head in disbelief. "But... I don't want to lose you, Nico." My heart thuds deep in my chest. I don't, I don't want him to go. "When you are-a ready, you will no." His eyes glaze over. I feel like he is saying goodbye. "But now-a, aye feel-a like-a you still must-a be in love wid-a him and-a you should resolve-a dis first." "But I don't. I don't Nico." I yell out of desperation. "I..." My voice trails off as I put my head down. He's probably
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right. "I can't-a risk-a my heart-a bein'-a broken." He looks away, emotion overcomes him. "But I won't break it." I say, tears spill down my cheeks. "It’s already broke-a because aye ‘ave to leave-a you." He blinks away the tears in his eyes. **** The next day Papa and Eva take them to the airport. I cannot bear to face the throng of people. Behind closed doors, when he leaves, Mamma holds me in her arms while I cry. "How will I get him back Mamma? I've lost him." She holds me and rocks the tears away. "You not-a lost him, Figlia. He is just-a upset and aye tink-a he was-a trying-a to elp-a you." "Help me?" I cry. "How?" "By make-a sure you deal-a wid dis before-a you move on in-a your life-a. You ave-a to close-a dis chapta in-a your life-a, bella mia." "I su- su- suppose." I say, stuttering as I convulse. Later, Mamma wakes me when Papa and Eva have returned from the Airport - I'd cried myself to sleep. Eva and I retreat to my room with mugs of hot coffee and chocolate Digestive biscuits.
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"I saw him, Ev." Her eyes pop out from her face mid Digestive bite. "What do you mean?" She mumbles through chewing. "On your own?" "Yes. I went right after I was at the P.I's office." She continues to widen her eyes. "What did he say the miserable low-life?" "Some very spiteful things." I nod, "I can't believe I married such an arsehole!" "Neither can I!" We both shake our heads in silence. "He told me that he's been out of love with me for years. That he left me for Anne because she is everything that I am not." My bottom lip begins to shake uncontrollably. "He said that?" "Yes." I take a deep breath to calm myself. "After he told me to leave him alone, he told me not to even think about telling Anne, because she would believe him over me and he said that he would tell her I was a bitter girlfriend dying to get back with him." Eva almost chokes on her drink. "What an absolute arsehole!" "I know. But Eva, it means that she doesn't know! It means that's she's being fooled just as I was. I'm so mad for not seeing the signs." "It's not your fault your husband is a conniving conman-bastard-shit-face." She throws in. "I suppose." "You could have him thrown in bloody jail you know."
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She says with a serious face. "I think I should tell her." I reply, staring into the middle distance. "What if she doesn't believe you? And she believes him?" "If she won't believe me, I will have to make her believe me."

An hour later I leave Eva at home with Mamma and Papa, snoozing on the sofa while I take myself on a little trip in my car. I screech into the driveway of our house in Chelsea, the pebbles make the same familiar noise they always did. I pull my bag and the tan folder Michael gave me, out of the passenger seat beside me and rush to the front door. I haven't been here for a long while. I can see from outside that the curtains are half shut in the living room and upstairs in the bedrooms, just as I'd left them. I redirected all my mail so I haven't even needed to return for that. I had Eva pass by to make sure things were okay. I push open the door and smell the house I lived in with Filippo when we were happy - well, mostly happy - in the beginning. I close it behind me and walk quietly around the kitchen, living room and dining room. Flashbacks of us chasing each other with chocolate sauce on spoons, ready to smother all over each other, when we made love on the sofa, the times we would dance together in our socks while our favourite songs
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played on the radio on Sunday mornings... but then the arguments flash before me, the stone-cold face that walked past me each day before he left for work. The times he embarrassed me in front of his old work colleagues. I think about all the times he said he was going to work and probably wasn't, all the times he said he was going on business trips for long weekends and spending time golfing with his work pals... probably all lies. How was I not able to tell the difference between his lying face and his sincere one? What a calculating, manipulating pig. What part of our marriage wasn't a lie? I ask myself. Did he ever even love me? I walk into his small study - the place I was forbidden to enter - and turn on the computer then look around, everything is just as he left it - notepad on the desk with his hand writing on it, his favourite pens sticking out of the desk tidy with the marbled letter opener I bought him for one of our anniversaries, nik-naks in the top draw and stacks of paper in the corner for the printer. A cardigan hangs off a hook on the back of the door - he put it there for when it was chilly in here at night. I step over to it and hold it close to my face. The smell of him has left. It's been months since this has even been moved let alone worn. He's gone. The computer buzzes as the screen kicks into action. I sit down and I’m suddenly typing into the search engine - married to two women. I run my eyes down the results… The Bigamist says she's sorry.
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My husband is a Bigamist. Bigamy is an offence under the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861. Bigamist Jailed. Man With Three Wives, Ran Out Of Lies! Banged up for four years, Bigamist caught in a love triangle. Bigamist narrowly escapes prison. I click on one of the stories. My husband is a Bigamist. Mary Catherine Flann came across her husband's marriage certificate one morning after breakfast. She was innocently cleaning out the wardrobe to make room for their summer clothes, packing away all the thick winter garments as she did every year. Except on this occasion she dug a little deeper into the bark pits of the fitted wardrobe and found a small box of things. When she opened it to establish what it was, that's when she found out, Linda Elizabeth Miller was the name of first wife.
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Trouble is, after rummaging a little deeper, she also discovered that he hadn't actually divorced Linda before marrying her. I click the back button and return to the list of results. Bigamist Jailed. Kevin Hargreaves was sentenced to four years imprisonment for Bigamy. Married to three wives in the space of three years, in three different counties proves that Hargreaves does not take the sacrament of marriage very seriously. He first married when he was 18 to Lisa Stutfold of Buckinghamshire and left her for, what then turned into his second wife, Melissa Mitchell of Hertfordshire. Mitchell was unaware of Hargreaves' previous marriage but left him after she discovered the truth. They were separated when Hargreaves landed his third victim, Julie Bell of Northamptonshire, who is distraught and is in current talks with her Solicitor... I click the back button and return to the list of results. My eyes almost bulge from my head with all the information. Filippo is a bigamist and I am a bigamist's wife! I drop my head into my hands with despair. I can't believe I never saw any signs. I raise my head and type, Maximum jail sentence for Bigamy in the United Kingdom into the search box and its results tell me that he could be jailed for up to seven
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years. How could he do something so stupid? I sit back in the plush leather chair, stare at the speckles in the wallpaper and think about his last words to me before he drove off. I rush up the stairs to my bedroom and when I get there I launch myself at the wardrobe where all of our photographs and memory box is kept and yank it all down. I sit on the floor and rummage through every single picture in there, each anniversary card, valentine's day card, birthday card and put aside anything that I feel will prove Filippo and I were together. Not just together – married! Why am I even doing this? To validate my marriage to myself, to look for signs in his face in the photos? As I look at him, I realise that I don’t even know this man. I look back up at the shelf in the wardrobe and see the cream, leather bound photo album: our wedding album. Had he met Anne by this point? Was he seeing her already? When did it all start? How could he do this to me? With rage bubbling inside me I decide that I have to tell her. I have proof. He can’t deny his foul play then… Not when the evidence is in her hands. I will have to show Anne one of our wedding pictures, and even our wedding certificate if I want to do this right. This way there will be no doubts about his past, no doubts about his actions. I unfold our four-year old wedding certificate and the deeds to our house, in both our names. I rush back down the stairs, panting as I go and I push them through the fax machine in the study, one by one to make a copy and then steam back upstairs to the bedroom like a Gladiator to collect the pile of
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photos and cards. All of a sudden I feel a pang in my chest; am I doing the right thing? Will I hate myself for telling her? Will she hate me for telling her… but, I'm not only telling her for her, I'm telling her for me... he has acted in an unforgivable way and I cannot allow him to get away with it. I’ll send it to her, all of it, in the mail… that way I don’t have to face her with the news. I put all the evidence into a hard backed envelope and address it to Mrs. Anne Jordan at the home address Michael gave me in the file. I reach in my bag for a couple of stamps, paste them onto the corner and look around the house one last time before I leave with the envelope tucked under my arm.

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21. Dear Anne
Back in my room at Mamma and Papá's house I mull over posting the envelope. I stare at it as if it has the answer. Should I? My eyes sting from crying as I recollect the look on his face in the car park yesterday – furious, he looked evil – I just didn’t recognise him. I don't think I will ever be able to forgive him for the things he said. All this time I've thought about whether he could be dead, whether I could even continue with my life without him, then Nico… I felt awful… Deep in my heart I did think there was a chance he could've left me, I just didn't want to believe it... But married? To another woman at the same time? It’s unfathomable – how did he get away with it for so long? I’m either blind or stupid… or both. All I've done is cried... I'm sick of it, of remembering, pondering, wishing I could've done things differently and I don't know why because I'm not even sure I love him anymore anyway... I think I hate him more than I love him. But it’s the rejection, I don’t know how to deal with the rejection I feel. It’s soul destroying. I do, I hate him… I think he disgusts me and he is a coward. What kind of man does this? A selfish, calculating, evil man… the sort of man I don’t want to be anywhere near. Since Nico, I’ve realised that I deserve more than Filippo ever gave me and certainly more than this. But it’s like the rejection is eating me alive.
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I want to send this envelope to Anne so badly, except my conscience is getting the better of me. I have everything I need to prove that Filippo and I are married and have been for the last four years - I don't know why I'm so apprehensive about sending it. Maybe I just don’t want to burst Anne’s bubble like mine was. There is a gentle knock at my door. I quickly push the envelope under my pillow. "Come in." I call. "Oh, I though you might be sleeping, darling." It's Eva. "No, I've been here thinking things through." I roll my eyes and shake my head with exasperation. Maybe she will help me to decide the fate of this envelope. I sit up and she joins me, perching on the end of my bed. "Wanna talk?" She asks and I meet her eyes and nod sadly. "While you were sleeping I went back to the house." "You went back to Chelsea? You should’ve woken me up, I’d have come with you." She sounds shocked. I shrug. "How did you feel?" "Empty... But I found some things out." My eyes grow big as I begin to tell her. "I Googled bigamy." "Okay." She replies. "And what did you find?" "I could have him throw in jail for this." I raise my eyebrows as I purse my lips. "That's what I said." She leans towards me. "Next time you should listen to me, I'm not just a pretty face you know!"
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"I know, I know. It's just, I hadn't given jail much thought really. Of course I want him to suffer for this but I was just so hurt, shocked and that's all I could think about… until I saw all this information online about all these people dealing with bigamists. And bigamists confessing to being previously lawfully married and wondering what to do now they have married a second time." She pats her hand over my knee. "Honestly, I had no idea this sort of stuff went on, I mean, in real life! Call me naive." She raises her eyebrows back at me and shrugs. "Personally, I think you should throttle the bastard. He doesn't deserve either of you." She spits, folding her arms matter of factly over her cashmere jumper. "If I were you I'd string him up by his testicles until he bleeds from his eyeballs." "Eva!" "What? That's the only sort of treatment he's worthy of." She glances down at her fingernails, admiring her coral nail polish. "There's something I want to show you." She turns back to me and I pull out the envelope and throw it onto the bedspread between us. "Look inside." I say and she empties the contents of the envelope onto the bed. She gasps at my brave attempt to act against Filippo's threats. "I just need to be sure I'm doing the right thing." I look at her for reassurance. She turns the envelope over and sees Anne Jordan's name on the front, along with her address. "Rosella, you don't need me to tell you that you have to
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do this do you? You know you have to, it's the only right thing to do. You can't let him get away with it or do this to another woman." She's right. She flicks through the photos and reads the cards I'd put in. "Should I write her a letter? I have to explain or else she will wonder what the hell is going on." "Write a letter if you must. But send it... whatever you do, send it. You'll regret it if you don't." She looks at my crumpled face. "You can't let him get away with treating you both this way. Seriously, I repeat – he.does.not.deserve.either.of.you." She rattles off. "Will you help me write it?" I ask, disgruntled. "Of course, darling." She flicks her hair. "Get a pen and a piece of paper." I reach for it in my dressing table draw. "You write. I'll talk." She says. With pen poised, I jot down what she says as fast as I can, trying desperately to catch every word. She's always had such a way with words. Once she's finished, we review the first draft and make some alterations. Then finally, it's done… Everything I want to say, down on paper.

Dear Anne, You don't know me, we are strangers to one another, but I felt compelled to write this letter to you. I hope once you have read it and looked through the things I have sent you, you
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understand why I did... Anne, there is no easy way for me to tell you this, you and I have been victims of a serious crime. I am your husband's first wife, my name is Rosella, except when I married him his name was not Phil Jordan, but Filippo Giordano. It is with much regret that I tell you this story, but feel it is very important that you know. I couldn't live with myself knowing that Filippo could do such a thing to the both of us and only one of us knowing of his foul play. I know this has come as a shock, I’m guessing you’ve already looked at the evidence… but please read on... One Saturday morning, almost eight months ago, Filippo left for work. He worked at Pride & Brimley here in Chelsea as the CEO of the company. That day, he never returned home and that was the last I ever saw of him. I didn't know what had happened to him, where he had gone, if he'd been kidnapped, killed in an accident or murdered... He left me no note, no message, nothing. I tried calling him but he didn't answer, I tried so hard to find him but all to no avail. I was hysterical with worry and naturally contacted the police. After they were of little help, I invested some money in a good Private Investigator and he has lead me to you and to the reason I write this letter. My husband... our husband is a Bigamist. We were married four years ago and have never divorced… my sources tell me that you have been married to Filippo for two years. I had no idea of his secret life and didn't see the signs. I suppose I trusted him. That was my mistake.
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After I'd gotten this information and gotten over the shock that he wasn't dead all these months, I confronted him at Jackhill & Co., which is where I learned that you clearly were as much in dark about me as I was about you. He threatened me and warned me not to tell you of our relationship, he said that you would never believe me over him. He said that he would say I was a bitter ex-girlfriend desperate for his affections, but I think you will agree that I am a little more than that, as the enclosed copy of our marriage certificate states. He must of thought I was too stupid to use at least this to prove my case! Please forgive me, but I felt that I had no choice but to send you all this proof for you to believe of my existence and the existence of my four-year marriage to him. Anne, I am truly sorry that I am having to write this letter at all and I write it without malice or vengeance but as someone wanting you to know the truth. Please feel free to contact me if you want or need to talk or if you have any questions. I write my phone number and email address at the bottom under my name and fold the letter up. I push it into the envelope of evidence and then seal it. My hands shake as I hold the fate of Anne’s future in between my fingers. This will destroy her - I feel awful but I hope to God that she thanks me for it one day. I wave the sign of the cross over myself and kiss my fingertips whilst I say a little prayer… Eva’s face is reassuring as she nods her approval at me… I’m doing the right thing… aren’t I? I’m
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doing the right thing. More to the point, he has left me with no choice.

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22. Jack On The Rocks
The pain of Nico's departure burns me as I sit at my desk, trying to get back to normality and all the while having Anne in the back of my mind, wondering what she thought when she opened the envelope. Wondering how she is coping with the news. I am hoping she is the one that opened it; after all, it was addressed to her. But perhaps Filippo saw it and was suspicious. Oh God, I feel sick to my stomach. My heart is aching… half of me is dealing with missing Nico, how we left things wasn’t very reassuring, and the other half feels rejected and hurt, worthless and humiliated, all because of Filippo again. I want to be mad at him, but I can't. I want to hate him, but I can't. Why am I sad instead of furious? I know, usually at first you're angry… but then later when it actually sinks in, you realise that the hate has turned to pain... I'm still waiting for the hate… with bated breath in fact… so I can get on with my life… But I don’t hate him… I’m hurting, hold on though - I do feel like if I were to see him again, I like to think I would slap him so hard across his face that my hand would buzz afterwards… Although, I think realistically, if I were to bump into him somewhere I would probably pretend I hadn't seen him, or maybe I would dive into the nearest shop... What would be the point of dragging this out, asking him why,
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humiliating myself more? I don’t actually want to see him again. I have far too much to deal with as it is. Setting aside the pain of this whole upheaval of my life and of losing Nico... I'd actually gotten used to him not being around. I’d sort of come to terms with the fact that he was never really good enough for me anyway. And now he's back, all the old feelings I'd managed to bury deep within me have resurfaced, much like an unwanted sick burp, but when are they ever wanted? Or even an itchy insect bite. So annoying. Sue called me into her office first thing this morning when she saw how pale I looked, haven't been sleeping you see. After a wonderful two-week holiday she said she'd have thought I'd have looked refreshed and rejuvenated – except I don’t - I look worse than before I left, to which of course I thanked her for her blatancy. That's when I filled her in on what had happened over the weekend. Her eyes bulged as I gave her a rendition of all the events and what I'd done. "Wow, those are very large balls you're hiding under that skirt!" She chuckled and I couldn't help but smile a small smile from the corner of my mouth. "I had to do something, Sue." I said. "How could I let him get away with it?" "I can imagine the shock you must have felt when that fellow told you what he'd been up to." "Just a little!" "Phillip didn't seem the sort to do something like that." She remembers meeting him a few times.
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"That's what I thought... That's what I couldn't get over." I knew deep down I'd been in total denial about his leaving me, but I truly never thought he was capable of being such a bastard. "Never trust the good looking ones." She said, shaking her head. "Listen, I can see that you're going to struggle for the next few days dealing with all of this. Don't worry I'll cover for you if Assford asks." I was glad to hear it to be honest, I don't think I will be much use to anyone; my stomach is in knots. Even though she knew I would only really be half listening, she told me that lots has been going on since I'd been away; new business is booming, sales are right up there and targets are being met, which puts me at ease since the pressure isn't on so hard if the company is doing well. At our pod, Jill waffles on about something or other but I can't really hear her and don't really want to. It's only now that I notice how often Ben looks over at Assford's office. A couple of times I've even caught him looking at his screen, randomly chuckling to himself and then he glances up at her in her office... they are obviously sending love memos… probably something like… To: Ben Gibbons From: Laura Ashford Re: Love Memo - Shagging on the Photocopier Sexy Bum,
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It has come to my attention that the office photocopier has been feeling neglected. I have been forced to demand that we spend some time getting to know its features, paying close attention to its buttons. I would like to know when your schedule would permit – THIS MEETING IS WELL OVERDUE. Please inform me as soon as possible, I am feeling deprived and have recently purchased some new knickers. I need not tell you that this is of paramount importance and that you should rearrange your agenda and place this at the top of your list of priorities. Please abide by this new policy or severe action will be taken. As always reply to this email to confirm you have read and understood this Memo. L.Ashford, Managing Director of Candy Beauty & Cosmetics … If not exactly that! I scroll down the spreadsheet on my computer as though I'm doing something but really, I'm not. My mobile vibrates a low hum on the desk and I pick it up quickly so as not to alert anyone of its ringing. It says unavailable again. My heart begins to beat hard, could it be Anne? What if it is, what will I say? I bolt upright and jump to my feet, then walk rather swiftly to the ladies toilets.
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"Hello?" I answer, slightly panting. The phone is quiet. "Hello?" I repeat then look at the screen. “Hello?” I know I could be totally wrong but I chance it. "Anne?" "How did you know it was me?" Her voice quivering over the phone. "I've been hoping you would call." I say, feeling terrible for her. The phone is almost silent but for her quiet sniffs. "Are you okay?" "Not really." She says. "Do you think we could meet up and talk?" "Of course, of course." I reply. "Anne, does Filippo know… Does he know that you know?" "No." She sniffs again. "He was out when I got the mail." She sniffs again. "I was trying to pluck up the courage to call you but I just couldn't bring myself to, I had to take everything in. I managed to hide it from him." “I’m so sorry Anne.” The phone is silent for a moment. "He knew something was wrong but I just said I had a headache and locked myself in the bathroom saying I was going to have a long bath." "When are you free?" I ask. "Can you meet tonight?" "Err. Sure. What time? I can meet straight from work if that works for you?" "That's fine." We plan where to meet, somewhere in between our two
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houses, in a small local pub; The Gordon Arms. **** It's 5:30pm and I'm out the door quicker than Michelle the receptionist, and she's always the first to leave, on the dot and not a second after. They don't pay her enough to stay any later, she says. I whizz past her and into the lift, hands loaded with things. I nod my head at her and stab the button on the inside of the lift for the doors to close. Riding down to the car park, I reach the garage and hobble along to my car in a kerfuffle, jacket across one arm, handbag on the other, gripping a box of Candy brochures in my hands with blisters on my feet from these new shoes. I shove them into the boot of the car, swing my coat and bag into the passenger seat and rev my engine. I take a quick glance in my rearview mirror to see what I look like before meeting my husband's other wife. I know it's not important but I'd be lying if this whole situation hasn't left me feeling a little insecure. Without blusher to hand, I pinch my cheeks for some colour and pat on some more cherry lip gloss over my lips after I've checked my eyeliner is still on. My dark hair bounces down past my shoulders once I given it a little shake, then I reverse the car out of my parking space and exit the car park. If my timing is correct I will be at the pub by 7:00pm. That will hopefully give us enough time for her to return home before Filippo is back from work.

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The streets are growing darker as I wind my way around small side streets to escape traffic. Finally I arrive and I pull in to the pub car park at the rear of the building. It's seems pretty empty, which is good, it means we can have a quite talk in a corner without anyone getting rowdy. Saying that, a Pub probably wasn't the best place to meet but it was the only place we could think of at the time that was neutral and that would be open in the evening. I step into the door and walk towards the dark wooden bar, my heels clicking over the wood flooring. Behind the bar stands and old guy; grey hair and stout, wearing a marl grey polo shirt. His blue eyes sheltered under his protruding bushy eyebrows and he grins a wide grin at me as I approach. "Hello, I'll have a double Jack Daniels please." I say, delving into my bag for my purse. She must be here by now but I daren't look around for her. Not yet, let me get a stiff drink inside me first, a little Dutch courage and I'll be fine... The man pours the drink and I hand over a ten pound note. He walks over to the till and I take a swig as he does. He returns with my change and I take it before looking around for Anne. I don't see her anywhere so I decide to take a walk around the corner, gripping Jack in my hand so tightly incase he slips through my fingers. Right now, Jack on the rocks is my only strength. If I wasn’t driving I think he and I would certainly become better acquainted tonight. God, I sound like I need to drive directly to an AA meeting after this. There, at the table, I see a woman sniffling into a
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scrunched up tissue. Her blonde hair parted messily in the centre, her face gaunt and grey looking but for her red nose and puffy eyes. It's Anne. I can just about recognise her from the pictures. I've looked at them enough when making a comparison to my own face. We are totally different. Her nose long and thin, her eyes blue, cheekbones high and her lips thin but shaped. She's pretty in a simple sort of way, perhaps now is not the best time to be rating her prettiness considering the news she's trying to deal with. She moves her glass around with her fingertips and watches the brown tinged liquid move about inside. I gingerly make my way towards her, slowly so as not to rush her with my presence. "Anne?" "Hi." She jumps to her feet. "Hi Rosella." She says, barely able to put a realistic smile on her face. Funny thing is, I know exactly how she feels... although… it’s not actually funny. "Hi." I shake her outstretched hand; she is quivering like a leaf. We both look at each other, not quite knowing where to start. I look at her half empty glass and she looks at mine. "Shall we?" I nod at her and she nods back. "After three?" "One." She says gripping the glass between her fingers. "Two." "Three." We both say at the same time and then swing our heads back, pouring the liquid down our throats. "Ahhh." She says. "I needed that." "Me too." I concur. Silence falls between us again.
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"So how are you coping?" I ask. "Not very well as you can see." She points to the glass. "It's my third one in ten minutes." I hope she’s getting a taxi home and not driving back in this state but I don’t think it’s a good idea mention it at this stage. "I'm sorry." I offer, for what it's worth. "It's not your fault. I just can't believe he could do such a thing. What kind of man did I marry? A spineless one. A coward." She answers her own question. "We both did." I add. "But, how could he do this to me? To you? Now my marriage is a total sham, null and void, nothing, illegal." Her voice rises and the few people close to us look over and she cowers, embarrassed. "I loved him. I still do and he's betrayed me. He's broken my heart." She declares as tears pour down her cheeks and onto her blouse. "And he has destroyed us, he broke us. I don't think I can ever trust him again." She whimpers, wiping the tip of her nose with her tissue. "I know Anne, I know how hard this is.” The lump in my throat makes me feel sick. “I found it difficult to get my head around it all too, that he could do this to us without a conscience. That was after I had to get over the fact that he'd left me, I was convinced he was dead all this time. I didn't want to admit it to myself, that the man I'd spent seven years of my life with had just upped and walked out without so much as a word." I say, rubbing her arm to try and comfort her. I feel her pain; I've felt it over and over again. I'm not even sure who it's
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worse for, the woman he left or the woman he's with. "So what should we do?" She asks through sharp intakes of breath. "What do you want to do?" I ask, knowing what I want to do. "I want to confront him. I want him to pay for ruining my life. We were planning for a baby and everything." She says sounding distraught. Suddenly I can’t breathe as the information comes like a stab to my heart. My eyes fill with envy and pain at the same time. "He wanted us to start a family." She looks up… her eyes meet mine. "How can someone like him bring children into this world? He's a liar and a cheat. A bigamist for Christ's sake." She shouts again, angrily. "Through the whole of our marriage he's been married to you, having sex with you." She stops abruptly. "I believed him when he said he had to work late every night and had early mornings so he stayed in a local hotel due to the distance. He came home on weekends, when he didn't have big clients to deal with and when he wasn't busy. I suppose I did wonder what kind of a married couple sees their spouse only at the weekends… but he told me it was temporary and that soon enough he'd change jobs and work closer to home. He said he was tired of staying in hotels." I feel a pang in my stomach. "Were you ever suspicious?" "No. I trusted him." She sniffs. "I know, I did too. When he told me he had business meetings out of town and would be away for weekends at a
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time, I believed him… He never really let me really get friendly with his work colleagues and always kept the two of us very separate; I suppose he’d have had a higher chance of getting caught if he did. I'm guessing that all that time he wasn't at any business meetings, but at home with you." She nods. "Believe me, I sifted through all the things he’d said to me too, all the lies… I thought about how he managed it without me suspecting anything." "He's a liar. A fraudster." Her face looks bitter. "Yes. He is." I agree with her and put my head down. "I don't even know who he is." She lets her tears flow again. "I... I just can't...' Her voice fails her as the tears stream. I look back at her and feel a little helpless, no one will be able to comfort her... she will feel broken, distraught and betrayed and there is nothing they can do to change that. I know, I was there. "The thing is Anne. He must love you. He left me for you." I say, feeling the ache in my chest after I say it out loud. She shrugs but looks at me as if she hopes that is true. "I'm sure you can work things out if it's what you want?" "But our marriage is a sham, we are not even lawfully married." She says, distressed by this very fact. "Yes. But..." my voice trails off, "I am going to divorce him. That’s it." I say, "Then you can marry again." Her eyes look back at me perplexed by my suggestion. "Rosella, I cannot marry him again... I can never trust him again; don't you understand that? I hate him for what he's
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done." "Yes of course I understand. I was just trying to help." My tone short, as short as hers. "I'm sorry," her eyes look sad, "I didn't mean to snap. It's just all so hard for me." "I know. Personally he deserves everything he gets." I shrug and shake my head. "We have to confront him." She says bitterly. “Surprise him so there is no way he can wrangle out of it with more lies.” "But we have to be clever about it." I reply. "He's smart and he will know something is up if you act out of the ordinary. She's quiet and stares into the middle distance, then silently shakes her head whilst probably running through their lives together in her mind – just like I did. Every so often she lets out a painful groan like she's just remembered something that had happened between them, and them alone. Or maybe she groans at the thought of now not having a family with him or not buying the house with the picket fence, not growing old together, which I'm sure he promised her, just as he’d promised me and I've had eight months to deal with the reality. But for her, from now on and since the moment she’d opened the envelope, nothing will the same ever again.

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23. Charlie’s Angels
"He lied. He bloody lied!" Anne's voice shrills down the phone the following morning. "What? What do you mean? Did you tell him?" I reply, surprised to hear that she went against what we'd decided: To be as normal as possible until we figure out a plan. "No. I didn't tell him, but I tried to call his bluff. I asked him if he knew of someone called Rosella, saying that someone of that name called for him." I gasp. Shit. "What did he say?" I ask quietly at my desk. The pod is empty today, everyone is out but me, so I duck down behind the partitions to hide from any surrounding onlookers. "He said he didn't know of any Rosella, could've been an old client." Her voice rises and falls with frustration. "I tried so hard to keep calm but I really wanted to shout and scream at him. Liar. Liar. Liar." I can hear her distress while I sit silently listening with the phone pressed up against my ear. "It just proved to me that he doesn't care whose life he ruins, he totally abandoned you and now is denying any knowledge of your existence. He could do that to me someday." "He didn't say anything else?" I ask now chewing on a nail. "Well, I think he was testing me to see what I knew. He asked me if you'd said anything, if there was a message left... I
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said no and shrugged like it was nothing. I could feel his eyes on me suspiciously from across the room while I made a cup of tea, although I don't think he suspected a thing." She breathes a deep breath "I hate him, he is a cheating bastard and I will hate him till the day I die." She says and I know that she is speaking in anger; she’s hurt, I know that feeling. "Rosella, I know what you're thinking, but I don't want him back - it's over. He is a manipulating bastard, a con man, how could I ever take him back after this?" I'm stunned to silence again. "I want to report him to the Police." She says with urgency, her voice stern. A tiny part of me jumps for joy inside, that she has come to the same conclusion as I had, even though I was probably too afraid to admit it. He deserves nothing less. I have to confess, I am rather shocked by her strength, it took me far longer to accept the fact that he would no longer be part of my life. But she is fuelled by anger right now and I was fuelled by pain, plus I've had almost eight months to get used to him not being around. "He lied to me, to my face.” She continues to rant. “Even though he knew you'd gone to see him and that there could've been a chance that you'd told me everything on the phone… he still lied, hoping he could get away with it for a little longer." I hear her growl down the receiver like she’s pacing or something. "So what now?" "I'm going to call the Police and go to his office with them so they can arrest him his cheating arse!" Her voice is cold, ruthless.
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"I'm coming with you." I say. I’m not letting her do this without me! "I'm going this afternoon." She replies. “The sooner, the better.” "But I'm at work." I look around to see if Sue is in her office. It's so quiet here today I'm sure she will let me leave under these circumstances. "I'm sorry, but I have to go today, Rosella, I can't wait another moment." "Anne, this isn't just about you. You can't just do this alone. What about me? He's hurt me too." "Ok, I'm sorry, I realise that I'm being selfish." Her voice breaks and I hear her swallow hard. "Can't you tell work it's an emergency?" "Ok look," I say, keeping my fingers crossed that Sue agrees to this, "I'll be at your place in the next few hours. Please, do not go without me okay, I'll be there." She agrees and hangs up the phone. My pulse is racing and my breath is fast. I can't even imagine what he will say when he sees us together with Police Officers in tow. I feel myself fill with anxiety, my face flushes and my fists clench… I have to get out of here. There is no point lying to Sue about why I have to leave, I will have to explain everything. It's better this way, I tell myself. This way he will learn from his mistakes and will never do it again to another woman. How long would it have been before he got bored of Anne and
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left her in piles and piles of debt? His debt. Just like he left me. It's better this way. Everything we do has a consequence, didn't he think of that? I take a couple of deep breaths and then head for Sue's office. "Sue, can I come in?" I say after tapping on her door and poking my head in. "Yes of course." She looks up from a pile of paperwork. "I'm sorry, I have to leave." I say abruptly, hopping from one leg to the other with angst. "What? Leave: as in resign?" She crumples up her face. "I thought you were happy here? I think you're doing very well, Rosella." "No, no. I mean for the day." "Oh. Why what's wrong? Are you okay?" She asks, noticing that I'm wringing my hands. "Not really. Anne is going to confront Filippo. Today. And I have to be there. She said she's calling the police and having him arrested!" "Wow, she doesn't sound bitter at all!" She replies sarcastically. "Well, I would've done it myself to be honest if I didn't think it might ruin her life. I'm just glad she's come to the same conclusion as me." "And now that she has...?" She asks "And now that she has, we can see that there is justice
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done. He's a sorry excuse for a man." I shake my head. What’s important is that he will no longer be able to get away with what he's done. **** We pull up behind the police car right next to the pavement at the front of the Jackhill & Co building. I can feel adrenaline pulsing through my body. He's going to be sorry, so sorry he ever messed with us. I feel sort of powerful walking with two uniformed Policemen between us. My work suit is snug and form fitting, showing off my slight curves and my newly toned calves. My dark shiny hair bouncing down my back as we walk, my heels clicking on the ground as my arms swing back and forth with every step. Anne dressed for the occasion: A sleek pair of high wasted trousers, a ruffled blouse in black with beige piping around the edges of the rippling fabric. Her nails painted a deep chocolate brown, her eyes smokey and her bland blonde hair: no longer bland but curly and it’s been teased to loosen the ringlets. She's really gone to town to show him what he will be missing before he is escorted off the property in handcuffs. I rub my lips together to renew my lipstick and pinch my cheeks quickly and surreptitiously as we walk in through the revolving door. We go up in the lift like two of the Charlie's Angels, our arms folded across our bodies, and although this is no laughing matter, I feel like jumping into a pose, holding a fake gun in my hands. This is serious Rosella! I remind myself. There is something quite exciting about this,
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something quite revengeful about it. One of the Policemen has his hand on his truncheon – no not that truncheon, his real truncheon, ready to yank it out incase Filippo gets lippy. The other is standing with his legs shoulder width apart, in a firm stance with a menacing face. We are mean machines! Wait, is this really happening? The doors slide open and we are greeted by the receptionist. "Anne?" She says as we walk directly past her and to Filippo's office. So he’s introduced her to his colleagues... I’m a little irritated by that but choose to continue forward on our mission. "Anne? Anne? You can't..." Her voice filters away as we make distance. The Policemen and I follow Anne, not knowing where we are going. She takes a sharp left and before I have fully made the corner she's flung open the door to what can only be, his office. "Anne?" I hear his voice before I see his face. "What's going on?" The Policemen walk in and then he spots me. "What are you doing here? What's going on?" He looks at the Officers who stand before him, his face becoming paler by the second. "She's a crazy ex, what has she told you, Anne?" He tries, pointing at me and I feel disgusted by his demonstration of desperation. "Has she poisoned your mind?" "Shut up Philip.” Anne hurls, snarling at him. “I know everything." She adds. She approaches him and slaps his face so hard that I wince at the loud sound of her palm smashing against his cheekbone. "YOU BASTARD!" She yells. He
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gasps and lets out a little groan at the end. "Madam." The Officers interject as she almost delivers another. They stand between them. "I don't know what she's told you... " He winces. "Shut up. Just shut up you miserable lying pig." She screams. "I have all the proof I need to believe everything she's said." "But... Anne." His eyes look like a young schoolboy's as he stares at her, distraught, unable to talk his way out of this one. I stand frozen to the spot. "Sir, we are placing you under the arrest. You have the right to remain silent, anything you..." The Policeman's voice becomes faint as I watch on in a blur. A tear pricks my cheek for reasons unbeknown to me, I thought I was okay, I thought I was a Charlie's Angel, eager to watch the justice unfold... this man - my husband - has cheated me out of the life he promised me and I cry for him? I look over to see Anne's face red with fury, tears welling up in her eyes. "No. Please. Please." I hear him say faintly. "Anne, no, don't let them take me, please." He begs. "I love you." The Policemen have cuffed him with his hands behind his back. Each of them holding him by an arm and forcing him to move towards the door. "I love you, Anne." He yells again and Anne shakes her head. "How could you do this?" She says. “I HATE YOU.” He looks to me "Rosella, make them stop, I made a mistake." He says so desperately. I shake my head and bite my
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lip, for a second I want to tell them to release him, I want to shout: Wait... I still love you... I think… but then I remember his face in the car park. This is all an act; it has to be... who wants to go to jail? No one. I try to put on my sternest face, but the vision of a man so helpless makes me ache. I don't know what I feel: revenge, pity, anger, hatred, sadness... all of it… It all bubbles together in my stomach like a witches potion in a pot. Boiling inside of me. I think a piece of me will always love him, deep down... perhaps not this man before me, but the man I fell in love with many years ago. Anne and I finally give in when he is out of sight and tears gush from our eyes. We leave the office and the group of onlookers from the office stare at us, agog. We say nothing and leave immediately. **** A week later Filippo's trial is due and Anne and I attend the court hearing. We sit at the very back of the room and wait for the verdict to be declared. He sits in front beside his lawyer, his hands clutching one another, his shoulders hunched, as he looks afraid. This is the last day we will see Filippo for a long time... He is sentenced to three years imprisonment and I can only describe my feelings as bitter sweet. Anne tells me that she's felt lonely this past week... numb and empty. She's had time to really think about things and how this has affected her life. I too have felt an overwhelming feeling of sorrow, but now
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anger... finally anger… soon will come acceptance I hope and I will be able to completely move on with my life and not have this feeling inside my stomach when I think of him or this. Although, she and I both know that no matter what or who may cross our paths in life... this will always be with us, it will always haunt us in our quietest moments. Even still… he may have ruined my past but he will not ruin my future.

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24. A Day of Surprises
Almost seven months have gone by and Christmas is around the corner again. The shops are beginning to play Christmas music and I love it... really puts me in the spirit. Today we had a ten minute spill of snow from the heavens... it didn't settle so the roads into work today were clear. I love going home after work when it's already dark out and going into the toasty warm living room where Mamma and Papá sit beside the twinkling Christmas tree and the smell of ragu bubbling gently on the stove for dinner. Christmas is my favourite time of year, a time for giving and a time for family. For the longest time, Christmas was turkey and trimmings and not much else but cold shoulders and stiffly pulled crackers. I’d always anticipate Filippo's early moans and groans about leaving to get back to something dull on TV. Now, things will be different. Eva and I will spend Christmas here with Mamma and Papá again, like last year, except this year will be better because I will actually eat, and laugh, and play bingo around the dining room table! And we'll leave when we bloody-well like! Except I won’t be leaving of course! Anne and I have kept in touch since Filippo's court date. I haven't been to visit him and really have no intentions to do so. Anne says she too is moving on with her life, getting herself a new job and tossing out all of Filippo's things from the
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house. And… yesterday I signed my divorce papers! - I am finally a free woman. Eva and I celebrated by drinking far too many cocktails and smoking a cigar – yes a stinky cigar, which I hated – although I can’t say I really smoked it how a cigar is supposed to be smoked… I took one puff, coughed and splutters a little and gave the rest to Eva! Either way – I did it! Rebel! Today I feel like new woman, working at Candy has been amazing. I've been getting further and further into Assford's good books, Sue says there is a promotion on the horizon. She's even suggested that I aim to move into Marketing, says my development has been very impressive – get me! I feel it in my bones; it's going to happen soon. My luck is finally changing. After Christmas I will be moving back into my home in Chelsea. For the last three months I've been spending weekends going over there with the help of the Mamma, Papá and Eva. We've stripped the place of any remnants of Filippo and given it a fresh lick of paint, ripped out the carpet from the living room and put down wooden flooring with thick plush rugs. We adding splashes of colour and new furnishings, we've even moved the living room furniture around - it looks perfect and much bigger, which made me wonder why I never thought to move it like that before. It's just as well really... because now I have what feels like a new home and I'm so excited to be back in it. It's taken me longer than I thought to leave Mamma's and Papá's, it was the decision to renovate it is what has set me back further, I just knew I couldn't move back
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into the house the way it was. It's going to feel very strange leaving home again after being there for so long. It has been the worst and best time of my life. If it wasn't for Mamma and Papá, for Eva... I don't know what I would have done. My debt is cleared and that is only because my divorce lawyer had all of Filippo's credit card debt transferred to him, now that we could track him down. Since I have the car, I'm still paying for it but I am up to date with everything else. Bills no longer scare me as they once did, they invigorate me and remind me that I am my own person and I have taken control of my life. "Rosella? Can I see you for a moment?" Sue says as she taps my shoulder, making me jump and breaking my daydream. "Oh sure." I rise from my seat and follow her back to her office. As I walk in I see that Assford is sitting in one of the chairs. "Oh, hello Ms Ashford." I smile sweetly; she nods at me. Shit, it's happening, it's happening... I'm getting promoted? Did I bring my camera with me today? My heart leaps for joy inside my chest but I try my hardest not to look excited or expectant. "Take a seat." Sue points to the one next to Assford so I pull it out and sit down. I wait for them to tell me… but their faces don't look like they are about to tell me something good... Oh no, maybe I'm getting demoted instead. My heart sinks and I rack my brains to think of why they might have brought me
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into the room... My eyes dart from Sue's to Assford's and back again... neither of them say anything. What was I thinking? Promoted! Ugh, I've bloody blown it somehow haven't I? Shit. "Is something wrong? Something wrong with my performance?" I ask, agog. Sue looks back at me with intensity. "Well, now that you mention it." Her face is serious, dead serious. "You must've noticed it yourself?" I swallow hard - crap - they've caught me on my phone? They've noticed my personal emails from Anne? This isn't going how I dreamt it would. Maybe they don't need me anymore, maybe they are cutting back and since I was one of the last in, they're making me first out? I look back wide eyed and anxious. Assford’s face is like stone as always, giving nothing away. "We… Laura and I..." She says and pauses... more serious faces. Yes? Yes? Carry on... spit it out. "We think that you've come up with some very interesting ideas lately," she curls her lip as if to say my ideas were a little tooooo interesting, "some of which are a little out of Candy's comfort zone." She says, trying to soften the blow I'm sure. I remain silent. How could she do this to me? Build me up to believe I could climb up the ladder in this company but now, in front of Assford, she's going to push me down? "We think that your ideas would serve best elsewhere." My mouth opens but nothing comes out. I'm sacked? I was too bold, too forward, but someone had to say something. "We think your ideas would be best served in our Marketing department." She says with a broad smile across her face,
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leaning back in her chair with satisfaction. The room is silent. Did she just say Marketing department? "Rosella?" I must be as white as pearls. "We'd like for you to move into a more senior role, taking charge of Marketing, pushing Candy to new heights." I take a huge gulp of air and smack my hand to my chest "I thought I was getting fired!" Everyone grins and Sue lets out a little evil chuckle as though that was her intention. I throw her a look through slit eyes but the grin on my face makes it obvious that I have forgiven her. "Rosella, we are so impressed with your work over the last year that you've been here, and what with your previous experience with Candy, we feel you have shown true leadership qualities and that we would like you to excel in the company." My mouth is open; I remember my shaky start back at Candy after so many years... I knew I would eventually get back to my old self, but I never really imagined that it would really happen... I've thought about it, lots, I just never knew how it would feel to hear the words... I never expected it to feel like this. My eyes fill and I nod, biting the inside of my lips together to hold back the emotion. Assford taps my shoulder to comfort me, she's not as scary as she seems… her bark's worse than her bite! "I'd love to join the Marketing team." I manage eventually, sniffing away the tears. "Great." Assford says clapping her hands once. "You do know that it's going to get harder from here on in don't you?" She says with a warning look across her face. Typical of her to
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somehow turn everything into a negative. "Of course." I reply. "We'd like to promote you to Chief Marketing Officer." Sue says and I can't believe my ears. Rosella Rossi, Chief Marketing Officer - I say to myself in a mumble and Sue and Assford snort giggles at me. "I'd love that. I have so many ideas. Thank you so much. I knew my luck was changing." I say, animatedly waving my hands about. Assford knits her brow at me in a how-so sort of way, while Sue winks at me with a knowingness behind her eyes. I don’t elaborate. "Right, we will have weekly meetings you and I, we'll discuss your strategies, ideas, progress, etcetera etcetera. That ok?" Sue says. "Yes of course. That fine!" I reply in sort of a daze… I can hardly keep my leg from twitching up and down. Who shall I call first, Mamma? Eva? My palms grow damp with exhilaration. I have so many ideas. Assford stands, "Okay, I'll leave you to go through the particulars." She turns to leave. "Rosella, your first project is the launch of our new autumn range next year, that gives you plenty of time to plan." "Oh great, I am so excited about that. I can't wait." I look back at Sue. "I really can't wait." But inside me, my heart is beating ten to the dozen, that's not far. I hope I can deliver; it's the hugest first task anyone could ever imagine. I don’t want to mess this up… I don’t want them to think they made a
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mistake promoting me. "Merry Christmas." Sue grins at me, and it truly is a merry Christmas. **** I arrive home is warm and cosy as it always is; Papá is watching a Christmas show on Rai Uno, the Italian satellite. Girls half naked prancing around in glittery bikini's with feathers on their bums and large headdresses on. They sparkle under the lights while an old crooner with silver hair sings a tune and they swap in the background; their legs reach my armpits! Mamma sits with knitting on her lap and needles away without even looking. I kiss them both on the cheek and tell them about my surprise promotion, which they are thrilled about. After hugs, kissed and congratulations, I go to the kitchen where dinner is waiting for me on a plate. Mamma is a true angel, she feeds Papá and me like we’re royalty. It’s going to take some time to get back into the habit of cooking for myself. Today was my last work day before the Christmas holidays, this year I took Christmas Eve off as have lots of my colleagues. We stayed a little later and had some wine in the break out area to toast a great Christmas and wonderful New Year. Assford gave us all bottles of Champagne, which will go down nicely along with the bonuses in our pay packets. She seems to be softening up… perhaps her office love affair has had a more profound affect on her than she even realises.
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Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and I can't wait to sit by the fire watching old films all day while the cold wind outside blows through the trees. The traditional feast of fish awaits me! Prawns cooked in garlic and butter, pasta alle vongole, eel, grilled sardines, salmon baked in the oven and of course an abundance of vegetables and salads to accompany it. And then at night, drinking cocoa before bed, sitting in the dark with all but the glow of the TV and the tree lights flashing, watching an old Christmas movie – it’s bliss to me. Eva arrives tomorrow and we begin helping Mamma with the food preparations for the Christmas day. We are having a feast, larger than last year; Antipasto for starter, which will consist of salamis, prosciutto, some pieces of cheese, carciofini sotto olio, melanzane sotto olio, a selection of different types of olives, all decorated nicely on a plate. Then we'll have Lasagna, then two types of meat, roast beef and turkey with roast potatoes, broccoli, carrots and peas. After we've stuffed our faces with all of that, we will have nuts while discussing our new years resolutions, then some Tiramisú, cake and ice cream, then finishing with coffee. I can't wait. But two days of eating like utter pigs will surely entice a new years resolution of losing ten pounds! I sit at the kitchen table and eat my pasta cavolfiore, spooning each mouthful in and chewing it slowly while I savour the taste. The doorbell sings it's tune and I crane my head past the kitchen cabinet to see if someone is going to get up and answer it. Are they expecting someone? Perhaps Eva decided
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to come early? Mid chew I realise that no one is going to get up so I make my way to the front door. As I do, I notice that both Mamma and Papa have dozed off, Mamma's knitting needles still in place. I swallow my mouthful before opening the door. This can’t be real. Am I dreaming? This has got to be a dream... before I can even think about my next move I jump forward, lunging for his body and land with my legs around his waist. It's Nico. My beloved Nico. "What are you doing here?" I ask, my eyes welling up, my heart pounding hard against my rib cage. He looks beautiful, gorgeous, handsome! His once sun kissed skin a little paler in winter but his eyes still as perfect as ever. His lips still as kissable as ever. I welcome him with tiny pecks all over his face and lips as he giggles at me. It's been so long since we saw each other and not hearing from him after I wrote him so many letters, explaining what had happened with Filippo, I thought I would never see him again. But now he is here... I know there can only be one reason why he has come back and it has to be because he hasn't stopped thinking of me, as I haven't him. I'm so glad to see him; I have so much to tell him: my job, my promotion... So much. We stand still, my arms wrapped around him, his strong hands holding me up and close. He buries his head in my neck and he holds me closer and closer, whispering that he has missed me. The smell of his skin makes me feel like
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crying. He's back. He's here in my arms. I don’t understand? What about everything he said? About me not being over Filippo? Does this mean… "Surprise-a.” He says, the tip of his nose pink from the cold. I stare back at him in disbelief, clutching his face in my palms. I can’t speak. “Aye had-a to come-a back." He interjects my thoughts… his eyes are deep and look directly into mine "Rosella, Aye lov-a you and aye-a cannot-a live widout-a you. Mi hai rubato il cuore." The words fall out of his mouth like honey. I’ve stolen his heart he says. I throw my arms around him again as he gently lowers me down. I've stolen his heart?! My feet land but my legs want to give way. The tip of his nose is red from the cold outside; his cool fingertips stroke the side of my face and run through the nape of my neck, pulling me in so our lips touch again. "Ti amo, Rosella, e ti amerò per sempre." He whispers softly into my face as our foreheads touch. Forever… he says, he will love me forever. I can't believe my ears, or my eyes for that matter. I want to cry. The man of my dreams has returned. "I will love you forever too." I reply, tears filling my eyes. I just want to hold him and never let go. "Come inside, it's freezing." I take his hand and his bag and lead him into the house. He pulls me back to him as he shuts the door behind him. "Aye come back to tell-a you dis." My heart pounds as I fall in love more and more. "If you will-a have-a me, aye ama here." He says with his arms stretched out and open by his
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sides. Before I can answer, of course I will bloody have you, I hear a voice. "Ciao, Nico." I turn to see Papá standing by the living room door looking out into the hallway at us, the corners of his lips curled up at the sight of the man I love. Soon enough Mamma pops her head out too. "Ciao, Nicolino." She says in a cutesy voice and comes towards us to give him two strong kisses with his face between her hands and a pinch of his cheek. They don't seem shocked at all by his presence. In fact, Mamma looks as though she might have been expecting him and not in the least bit groggy from her nap. Hey, were they pretending to sleep when the doorbell rang? "Wait. Did you know he was coming?" I ask, looking at both Mamma and Papa while they stand looking guilty. "Yes-a." Papa throws his hands up. "We knew-a. Nico mi ha scritto una lettera, e mi ha chiesto se poteva venire a trovarti." "You wrote Papá a letter to ask if you could come to see me?" I turn to ask Nico, my eyebrows knitted together; I didn't know men like that still existed. "Yes-a." He shrugs as if every man would do such a thing. "Aye wrote-a because-a aye want-a to check wid-a yo Papá if it-a would be okay if aye come." I know that Papá will have thought very highly of him for doing such a respectful thing. "We knew-a you would-a be appy. We say-a nothing
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because Nico want to surprise-a you." "You are all crafty devils." I reply as they smile mischievously. What a day of surprises, and the best ones I’ve ever had. Nico holds my hand tightly and I still can't actually believe he is here, in the hallway. He came back to me.

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25. Masks & Balls
September. Autumn. The months have flown by. It’s just two days until the Venetian Masquerade Ball I've been organising for the last nine months of my life. It had to be something elaborate, something lavish and opulent. It had to be something that would set a statement about Candy. Just a normal launch party wouldn't do. I spent the best part of the first three months trying to plan something that would wow our clients, wow Assford more to the point. I mean, this is my first project since being promoted to CMO and whilst I've loved the challenge it has been rather stressful to say the least. But thankfully, the invitations were perfect. They were sent out last month. Soft champagne coloured paper, thick and expensive looking with black swirls in the corners of the page intertwining a pair of bronze masks. Gold embossed writing saying: You are invited to a Masquerade Ball hosted by Candy Beauty & Cosmetics. Join us to celebrate the launch of our new line, Essence. Saturday 19th September at 7:30pm. I decided to host the party at Beauford House just outside London. It's an exquisite location and perfect for the ball with it's high ceilings and long wide windows allowing the picturesque view of the beautiful gardens to pour through. The gentleman there told me that they have had balls there in the
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past and they have gone down tremendously well, with the right lighting and staging, the venue would be ideal for the Masquerade Ball. I love the way the stone stairs lead you up to the huge front door and the open foyer is so welcoming with a breathtaking chandelier in the center of the ceiling. There are dark wooden floors in the main gallery, with white walls and white detailed scroll cornicings. I know the venue alone is going to leave everyone gobsmacked. It is the most amazing place I think I have ever seen, and I found it! My stomach does a flip every time I think about the reaction it is going to get. **** Nico and I have moved back to my new house in Chelsea. I call it new because it may as well be now that all the decorating has long finished... it's like a completely different home to the one I left behind. Life is amazing. Being with him is amazing, each day that passes I find something else about him I didn't know before and I fall deeper and deeper in love with him. Like the way he looks at me when he's cross, or the way he rubs his eyes when he is tired, the way he scoops me up into his arms or the way he holds me close at night while we sleep. We plan to take a trip to Italy to visit his family, and mine of course, once the Ball is out of the way. He has been working as a Freelance Architect and has been hired by Falcon Bros to design their next venue. They have various high class bars and nightclubs in and around London and are hoping that
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their next project will put them on the map. He's been so wonderful to me the last few months, helping me research the Venetian Carnivals and Masquerade Balls from the 15th century to get some ideas for the decoration and to really get a feel for the theme. I'm so nervous that something will go wrong that I've had nightmares during my sleep. Nico says I've been shouting a lot of gibberish like: "No No, Centerpiece there… THERE!" And, "Have to.. masks otherwise...won't be a Masq Ball" But I don't remember of course. I have arranged some choreographed themed dances as part of the entertainment, raffle tickets and prizes for the best dressed and mask, and there will be a DJ who has also agreed to wear a mask for the occasion. I've put reminders on my phone, reminders on bits of paper scattered around the house, to-do lists on every surface you find. But now it's practically here. The time has almost arrived and I will have completed my mission. **** It's Saturday night. It’s the night of the masquerade ball and I'm as nervous as hell. Everyone will be there. All my colleagues, lots of our clients, potential clients, very important clients, and of course… Assford... My palms sweat thinking about it what it will be like when I arrive. I have invited Eva too, she will be coming with a date. Nico will escort me and Anne is due to arrive any minute now with her date too. We
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will all travel to Beauford House together. Eva and Ian arrive. Her gown is amazing, deep red with gold piping and a square neck. It squishes her boobs in so hard that they cushion out above the neckline of the dress. Ian can't stop looking at them. Her mask is gold with diamantes around the eyes and black and gold feathers delicately placed on one side. He hair curled and pinned perfectly into place, her lips dark blood red to match her dress. Ian is wearing a suit with tails. His rum waistcoat matches Eva, his mask: just plain gold velvet covering his eyes and leaving his mouth and chin exposed. I stare back at myself in the mirror of my bedroom. My dress is forest green satin, pulled in at my waist tightly so I can hardly breath, which leaves me gasping for air. The sleeves fit snug to my arms and are finished in black trim. My mask is black lace with dark green satin entwined through it, it looks like a butterfly. There is pretty intricate beading around my eyes and at the centre of my forehead coming up like a small crown. I can hardly recognise myself. "Sei bellissima." Nico says as he enters the room and puts his arms around me, I rest my head back against his chest and let him sway me side to side, gently. He in his black mask, his pouty lips and stubble showing. I turn to kiss him and he presses his lips against mine. Afterwards, he releases me and turns to leave the room, I stare back at him in his velvet jacket with tails and his fitted trousers that finish at his knees revealing
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his toned calves in white socks. His black shoes shine like new and he looks as dashing as always. I fix my hair flowing down my back, falling over my shoulders and rub my lips together. Ready. I spritz a little perfume behind my ears and on my wrists and feel my pulse beating hard with nerves. I take a few deep breaths and prepare to make my way back downstairs. Just as I do, Anne arrives in a golden gown, her partner in a mustard colour jacket to match. I kiss her on both cheeks and shake her date's hand, he looks at her dotingly but I sense a slight coldness towards him. We arrive and drive up the driveway to Beauford House, the night is a little breezy but not cold, the sky is dark and stars twinkle down on us. Beauford House is lit up perfectly with outdoor Christmas lights wrapped around the tree bases and into their branches and they line the walkway. I had statues placed on either side of the path just as we reach the house. We take the stairs up to the front door and walk through, the bustle has already begun, I wanted to be one of the first to arrive since I had to make sure everything was okay. The place looks amazing, perfect. Dimly lit by candles and the buffet looks scrumptious. I don't recognise anyone at this point which I suppose is the purpose of a Masquerade Ball - but everyone looks fabulous, there are some lavish gowns and some simple gowns and I am so happy that everyone came in the true spirit of the Ball. As part of the entertainment and as everyone arrives, I have flute players and lute players in the foyer with
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glasses of mulled wine and spiced walnuts. Salmon and cream cheese is served on crackers, champagne and strawberries and chunks of colourful fruit on silver platters. Whilst I check that everything is in order and in place, Beauford House fills quite quickly and before I know it, it's time for the first of the choreographed dance performances. Ladies stand on one side, gentlemen on the other and after the bows, curtsies and changing places, then a series of steps to the left and to the right, the dance is over. The crowd roar and clap furiously. Nico finds me and puts his arm around my waist tightly. I spot Assford and Sue, I know it's Sue because I recognise her black bobbed hair and frame, Assford is unmistakably pale and blonde. Who is that gentlemen beside her? I could've sworn he just palmed her a note. She ignores it and they appear to be smiling and enjoying themselves. I finally spot members of my team, mingling and checking that the buffet is constantly full of food for people to pick at. The party seems to be going down a treat. I feel myself relax a little, I grip Nico's hand on my waist and give it a squeeze. I'm so glad he is here with me, I turn to press a soft kiss on his lips and he pulls me close to him for a lingering one. "Ti amo, amore." He says, his eyes looking beautiful surrounded by the blackness of his mask. “I’m so proud-a of-a you.” "I love you too." I reply and all I can think about is him picking me up and taking me somewhere secret where he can kiss me like that some more. He wiggles his eyebrows at me,
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knowing what I must be thinking and then winks seductively at me. "Later." I smile and curtsy to him and he bows as though we are at a real Masquerade ball of the 15th century. He reaches for my fingers and kisses them before I leave him to mingle while I go to make sure things are running smoothly elsewhere. The DJ prepares to play some music for everyone to dance to. I make my way back to the foyer to check on incoming guests and supplies, the foyer is just as busy as the main room, people mingling and talking amongst themselves. I lift my mask off my face momentarily as I'm instructing the girl holding the strawberries to ensure her platter is full at all times. That’s when I hear my name being called from behind me. "Rose?" My heart sinks, only one person on this earth calls me Rose. I look behind me hesitantly. Filippo? What is he doing here? How can he be here? My heart pounds and strangely, fear fills my veins. "What are you doing here?" I ask. "I needed to see you." "But aren't you..." I pause and whisper harshly to him, "aren't you supposed to be in jail?" "They let me out for good behaviour." His face looks different, he seems different. "Good behaviour?" I ask incredulously. "That's because there were no women around." I spit a laugh but he doesn't react. He looks sorry. Hurt. "Rose, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry for everything that happened." His eyes fill. I am speechless, I can find no words.
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Filippo, sorry? I think about Nico seeing me here talking to him, I think about Anne inside with her date. Everyone is here, what do I say to him to make him leave? "That was along time ago now. It's fine." I try, still wondering what the hell he's doing here and how he found out about the party. "Rose... I..." He stops and looks at me and I can hardly hear him. "I... I still love you, Rose." He shouts and I catch Sue looking over at me, now in ear shot of my conversation, her eyes are big and she nudges Michelle and Janice who are on either side of her, they all know what happened with Filippo and all three stand dumbfounded by the balls of him in showing up here tonight. I want him to leave, I've spent the last nine months organising this thing and I don't need him here ruining it for me. "Filippo, you have to leave, you really shouldn't be here." I shout back. Suddenly the music seems to fade out and his voice is clearly heard. He doesn't care who's listening, he doesn't care what's happening around him. Is this supposed to be romantic, stopping a party to declare his undying love for me? Telling everyone that he can’t live without me? Is this supposed to have me running back into his arms? "I can't leave Rose, I can't leave now. I love you too much to ever walk away from you again, I know that now, it's all I've thought about. It took me some time to realise it but I know now." My heart skips a beat when I hear his clear voice again after so long. But I don't love him, I love Nico and that's
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the end of it. "But what about Anne?" I ask and I'm not even sure why I do, him being here will do him no good. "What about her?" "You were married for two years, you cheated on me with her, you married her behind my back and when I came to see you, distraught, you shunned me, threw me away like an old t-shirt." "I don't know what I was thinking." He puts his head down and I glance over to Sue who is pointing to tell me that Nico is not far away. "Rose, please, take me back... we can be together, we can be like we were in the beginning, start a new life." He sniffs away the tears. No. No. He’s not is he? Yes, he fall down on his knees…Oh God, I cannot have him here on his knees before me, what if Assford comes around the corner… What will the guests think… “Please get up Filippo.” I plead. Is he just here because he knows that Anne won't take him back? Because she has been much harsher with him than I have been? Is that why he's back? “Please, give us a chance. Just one last chance, I won’t disappoint you.” He says, slowly rising back to his feet. "Filippo, I can't come back to you." I reply, consciously looking around. "But why?" Suddenly I see Nico's face, he looks red with fury, his eyes narrow at the sight of Filippo begging me to leave with him, begging me to go back to the life I once had.
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But I can't. I can't go back to him or to that life. "I just can't." I feel awful admitting that I don't love him anymore in front of everyone and that our life together isn't what I want anymore. I look away, Nico's eyes meet mine and he gives me a look that tells me he knows I can handle this situation without him getting involved. Eva now beside him squeezing his arm, if looks could kill, Filippo would be... "But I have nothing, no job, no life, nowhere to live, no money." He says and I feel like he may drop to his knees again. Where is Anne? Where is she, I don’t want her to see this. Everyone in the foyer is looking and I feel embarrassed. Thank God Assford is nowhere to be seen. "That's not my fault Filippo, you threw your life away. You did that all on your own." He nods. "What happened to the money I paid you for your share of the house?" I ask. "I had to clear my debt, I have nothing left. I can't get my job back. I'm a mess, I'm a mess without you Rose." "Well it looks like you'll have to start all over again... just like I did." His face sinks, I can tell that he was hoping that he could win me back with a few quick despairing words. "It's too late for regrets Filippo. And besides, I'm in love with someone else." He lifts his head with a furrowed brow, confused by my statement. Nico approaches me and puts his arm around my waist tightly and without Filippo even saying another word, I know he knows it's all over. "Did you think I was going to be waiting around for you? After the way you treated me? After what you did to me and to Anne?"
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Defeated, he turns to leave and although I am glad to have even gotten that off my chest, a tiny part of me feels sad for him. Once he has gone I turn to kiss Nico tenderly on the lips to reassure him that everything is okay. Eva pats me on the back and I return to the main room to find Anne. Thank goodness she was enjoying herself to notice the gathering in the foyer. I think this is the most I’ve seen her smile in months. She is dancing and laughing with her date but I know that I have to tell her. I approach them and quickly ask if I can interrupt. I pull her aside and explain, my hands shaking… but her face doesn't look surprised. "I knew he'd been released. My Lawyer told me today, she sent me and email to tell me, but I didn't want to tell you because I knew how important tonight was for you. Looks like he found out about the party and came straight here." She shrugs and by her face I can tell she is a little hurt. "I'm sorry Anne, I had no idea, I'm still in shock." "It's okay, I know. I just can't believe after everything he's done he had the cheek to come to you, begging for you to take him back." "I know. I can't believe it either." The rest of the night seems a blur to me. I try to put on a brave face, in fact my mask does a great job of disguising my tense expression but beneath it, through the holes, my eyes reveal everything.

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26. The End
All I can think about is the look on Filippo's face last night. The desperate, distraught look. And while I have no intention of being with him, I feel bad for him. I wonder whether I should send him some money, not that I'd even know where to send it. Nico is still sleeping off the effects of the mulled wine, but I just couldn't sleep another wink. It's like my conscience has got the better of me and I can't seem to shake this feeling. The last person I'd expected to see last night of all nights, was my ex-husband, the man who I last saw in court when he was carted off to jail. My life has moved on, he can't expect to just walk back in and hang his hat on the coat rack... can he? Why can't I let this go. I have the man of my dreams, my childhood crush, the sexiest man on the planet upstairs in my bed and I'm worried about the man who married another woman behind my back. No matter how much I hate him for what he did, I just can't help but feel a pang of guilt in my chest for rejecting him when he was in need. I'm a fool. I must be. Today Anne and I are meeting for lunch, she's going to show me the email her lawyer sent her informing her that Filippo was released. I don't want to tell Nico that it's playing
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on my mind, he may think that I want to be with Filippo, which of course I don't, but I can't help but feel awful about it. I suppose some things are better left unsaid. Anne walks into the café with a satisfied look on a face. As she approaches the table she removes her black coat and unwinds the scarf from her neck. "What are you so smug about?" I can't help but ask. Perhaps she got lucky with man-in-the-mustard-jacket? Maybe they've arranged to meet again? I wait for her to answer. "I had a little visitor this morning." She says and I curl my lip in confusion. What does she mean a little visitor? She can see that I am still waiting for her to reveal why that makes her so smug. "A visitor to whom we are both familiar with." "What? Anne. Spill - you're talking in riddles and I have no idea what you're waffling on about." "Phil came to see me." "WHAT?" My eyes almost fall from their sockets. "You are joking aren't you?" "Nope." She shakes her head. "Let me guess, he came to tell you he still loves you, he can't live without you, that you can be like you were in the beginning... blah blah blah." "Yep!" She laughs and I can't help but laugh with her. "That he doesn't know what he was thinking, that we can start a new life together and get married properly now." She recounts. “Of course he had no idea that I was at the party last night, that
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I knew he was out of prison or that you and I are friends so he laid it on thick.” "What an arsehole! And so when you refused... wait you refused didn't you?" "Of course I did, what do you take me for?" "Just checking... so when you refused I bet he said, "but I've got no money, nowhere to live, no job... right?" "Right! He wanted the sympathy vote." "Conniving bastard, he was trying to play us both for fools." And there was me feeling awful, all morning, remembering his face and think that maybe he had changed and wondering if I should help him. "He thought he had me for a minute too,” she says. “Until he saw Edward coming down the stairs in his boxer shorts and sex hair!” I gasp in shock. “You should've seen his face Rosella!" We throw our heads back in laughter. "I was almost thinking about sending him some money I felt so bad for him. Anne, a man like him will never change." I declare and it's true. "To new beginnings and to the new men in our lives… To friendship." I say raising my mug of coffee "And to our futures and not to our pasts! It’s time we put him behind us forever." She says and then she clinks her mug to mine.

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