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the hill to the church. My lips burned. My arm throbbed. Looking down, I discovered a thin streak of blood seeping out of a corner of one of the scrapes. I shook my head. What was he thinking? If Carla and her parents weren’t waiting, I might have taken a long walk to cool off and to collect my thoughts. “My God, Emily. What happened?” Carla asked. I threw my arms around her and held on tight, careful not to smear blood on her white blouse. My camera dug into my chest as I held her close. She didn’t see him. Good. I wouldn’t have to answer any questions. I squeezed my eyes shut. “Did you fall?” she asked. “Yeah, I fell,” I whispered. Fell from grace. It was an apt description of my life in general. “I bet your parents hate me now, huh?” The words slipped out of me before I knew what I was saying. I heard footsteps. “We love you, mia cara,” my aunt said, and I opened my eyes to find her standing in the doorway behind Carla. I released Carla and stepped back. “But understand you? Not so much at the moment. You can explain everything after you are settled.” I wouldn’t explain anything. Not if I didn’t have to. My aunt untied the sweatshirt from around my waist and draped it over my shoulders. In Italy, it’s disrespectful to enter a church wearing a sleeveless shirt. “Mama mia. What is this?” Her touch was gentle as she moved my arm closer to
I hustled down
examine the marks and fresh cuts. It stung to stretch my arm. “How did this happen?” “It’s nothing.” I turned my body away from her and jammed my arms—ignoring the pain—into the sweatshirt before pulling it over my head. Aunt Maria looked hurt, but I couldn’t help it. Any kindness, any tender touch or smile, made me recoil. But doing that made me feel bad, too. I tried to smile for my aunt’s sake. I even made my voice sound like the old Emily. “Oh, Aunt Maria, I just hate to see you worry. You know how clumsy I am. It’s really nothing.” She brushed my hair away from my shoulders so it cascaded down my back. “Shall we join your uncle inside? He is so happy to have you here.” Aunt Maria led us down the center aisle of the antiquated church. The high walls, cool shades of grey and blue, were made of stone and curved to form an arched ceiling. Simple chandeliers, with black frames and teardrop-shaped bulbs, hung from long cords over the polished wooden pews. Uncle Paolo and Father Rossi stood at the foot of the altar. The stained glass window behind them lit the otherwise dim church with a dazzling mosaic of color. My uncle smiled at me. “Here she is!” Uncle Paolo was on the larger side, not fat, but thick from a desk job at the bank and many years of Aunt Maria’s indulgent cooking. His cheerful eyes appeared huge through his gold-rimmed glasses. “Here is my niece! All grown up since the last time we saw her.” He patted me softly under my chin. And as I set my heavy backpack onto the closest pew, Uncle Paolo
explained, “This is Father Rossi, the same priest who married your Nono and Nona forty years ago.” As Father Rossi smiled, the wrinkles deepened around his mouth and eyes. “I still remember your grandparents’ wedding.” He took my hands and gave them a light squeeze. “They were so eager, so in love, and not much older than you, I think.” Uncle Paolo laughed. “Don’t give her any ideas, Father.” I forced myself to smile at the joke while the others chuckled. “No, it is college first these days, isn’t that right, young lady?” Father Rossi asked, and I nodded. He squeezed my hands again before letting go. “Education is important, but do not forget to explore while you are here. There is much for you to see in this city that will teach you about Italian culture and God.” Carla said, “Oh, don’t worry, Father. I will make sure she explores! I can’t wait to show her everything.” Carla bounced up and down and clasped her hands at her chest. “The Boboli Gardens, the Ponte Vecchio, our beautiful piazzas, the giant corn maze in the countryside, and of course, gelato. There is so much to see and do…and eat. Oh, and I can’t forget about opera.” I swallowed hard. “Opera?” “You’ll love it. I swear.” “And where will you girls find the time for these adventures?” Aunt Maria wondered. “You are both back in school on Monday.”
“On the weekend, Momma, relax. Besides, Emily is an A student. You know that.” Aunt Maria crossed her arms around her thin frame, looking more like my mother in that moment than usual. She was the eldest of my mother’s sisters, and wisps of grey hair were beginning to show through the black. Although my mother’s brown eyes had grown cold over the years, I still felt the warmth in Aunt Maria’s. Unfortunately, I also saw the worry in them. “Emily is an excellent student,” Uncle Paolo agreed. “Maybe she will rub off on you, h’mm?” Carla rolled her eyes at him. Turning to Father Rossi, she said, “Did Babbo tell you that Emily is going to Leonardo with me? She won a scholarship to pay for her tuition and everything.” That was the story we had agreed to stick to unless the Italian media found out about my troubles back home. But knowing my recent luck, I wouldn’t be surprised if a mob of reporters flooded into the church at any moment. “So I hear.” Father Rossi looked at me and said, “And I also hear you are a great writer and photographer like your father.” I shrugged and said, “I wrote for my school newspaper.” “Maybe one day you will be a governor like him?” he asked. “I doubt it. I mean”—I smiled politely —“Politics don’t interest me that much. It’s just a bunch of arguing.”
Carla said, “Politics are boring. Emily wants to be a journalist. She likes real life stories with good intrigue.” She leaned close and whispered, “Like a story about a mysterious boy who kisses a girl in a graveyard and then vanishes.” I held my breath. So she did see him. That was a Carla thing to do. She was testing me, waiting to see whether I would tell her about it or keep it a secret. “A journalist? Fantastic!” Father Rossi said. In that same moment, the book I had found in the graveyard tumbled out of my backpack. The sound of it hitting the ground echoed through the empty church. It landed between my shoes and Father Rossi’s. I moved to retrieve it, but Father Rossi got there first. For an old man, he scooped it up quickly. While rubbing a hand over its beat-up cover, he glanced at the back door that led to the graveyard. Then, he looked at the book as if he had seen it before. I held out my hand and said, “Thank you, Father Rossi.” His peculiar expression made me uneasy. “Did you enjoy your tour of the graveyard, my dear?” I nodded, keeping my hand outstretched, waiting. I couldn’t explain why I felt the book was mine to keep, but I did. At last, Father Rossi returned the book, though he kept his eyes fixed on it as I put it away. He cleared his throat and smiled at us, but his voice turned suddenly serious. “Maria, you are in charge of the church committee until Alessandra returns from Milan?” “Yes,” she responded, anxious to hear his news.
“Guiliana De Luca passed away last night. Is it possible for you to visit Signore De Luca’s home this evening with a meal? He is quite alone in the world now, Maria, and he is not taking it well.” “Poor Signore De Luca.” Aunt Maria’s face took on genuine concern, and when she looked at Uncle Paolo, he placed a consoling hand on his wife’s shoulder. I watched them, thinking of my own parents. “Will you accompany me to my office? I will find Signore De Luca’s address for you.” Father Rossi led her to a side door. “You think this might take a while, Babbo?” Carla asked her father. Uncle Paolo sat down and spread his arms across the back of the pew. “I think you are wise. You know he misplaces everything including his sermons.” “It’s so stuffy in here. Can I have the keys? I’m going to get my water bottle from the car.” “Ah, you think you can trick me? Water bottle? You want to read the end of that romance novel of yours, don’t you?” Carla smiled and rolled her eyes. “Babbo—keys?” He reached into his pocket to retrieve the keys and tossed them to his daughter. “Come on,” Carla said to me, “let’s wait in the car.” Once inside the car, she put the keys into the ignition, turned up the music, and handed me a pack of gum. “You weren’t going to tell me about him?” She prodded.
I knew it. I popped two pieces of gum into my mouth.
“About who?” “Who? Mio Dio. Really, Emily? Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome. The one who kissed you. How quickly you forget.” I hadn’t forgotten. “Oh. Him.” I sighed, and then groaned. “Well, why did you pretend not to see him?” “I thought you would tell me. But you are not yourself right now. I can tell you don’t want to talk about it.” She turned her wide brown eyes on me. I knew that look. She wanted me to empty my heart and soul into her lap so she could fuss over me. I looked away, and she continued on about the kiss. “It’s so romantic,” Carla breathed. “Your first day in Italy, and you are already charming all the boys.” “One boy. And it wasn’t romantic. It was creepy, Carla. Creepy. I guess you don’t know the difference.” “He looked hot to me.” As if being hot gave him the right to sexually harass me. “How do you know? You were all the way down the hill, and the sun was in your eyes. How do you know he didn’t have warts all over his face?” “I have a sixth sense when it comes to hot guys. I really do. Warts? Gross. Why did you put that image in my mind? Please, fill it with something better. He was hot, wasn’t he?” I wasn’t going to lie to my cousin by saying he wasn’t; so I feigned indifference and watched the traffic pass by. I shook my head and clenched my fists. He could have had the
decency to apologize or explain. There one minute and gone the next. It made no sense. “Do you think it was love at first sight?” Carla asked in a dreamy voice. How was I supposed to know? Uncle Paolo and Aunt Maria saved me from answering. On their arrival, they booted us out of the front seat. Climbing into the back, I set my backpack on my lap and turned to the window. Love at first sight? I could have laughed at the thought.
written by Rane Anderson read Chapter Three at thelitexpress.blogspot.com
art by Ashley Stewart ashleystewart-art.com
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