Chapter Five

The morning sunlight stung my eyes, triggering
a headache so intense that if Death, with his black cloak and menacing scythe, had leaned over my bed rasping that my time was up, I might have even smiled. At least it would be over. It, as in everything that had gone wrong in my life. I cradled my throbbing eyes and forehead in the crook of my arm, attempting to block out the light and soothe the hangover already threatening to ruin my day. Attending an opera in this state was likely to give me a brain aneurysm. Carla’s soft breaths were warm against my cheek. I squinted over my upper arm to find her head propped at the edge of my pillow and her hand wedged under my shoulder. It reminded me of the old days when her family would travel to California for the summer. Carla and I had shared a room, and every night, she had crawled into my bed after our parents tucked us in so I could tell her stories. And every night, she had curled on her side, resting her head on the corner of my pillow, begging me to tell her tales about faraway lands and a prince who would give her sparkling jewels on a silk pillow. I always made sure to throw in a ghost that chased the prince off a cliff, or a thief who stole the jewels in the middle of the night, or something as random as the sun exploding, causing the prince, and everything else on Earth, to shrivel into dust. Suddenly, as if she knew I was thinking of her, Carla’s eyes blinked open. “What time,”—she yawned—“is it?” I

positioned my arm over my eyes again and shrugged. “You all right?” she asked groggily. “I could be better,” I said, cringing as I recalled how demented I must have looked when Carla had found me in the bathroom last night. I also groaned, remembering how desperate my voice had sounded when I threatened to jump off the roof. I wondered if she actually thought I would do it. “That whole thing—” She stopped to test my reaction. When I didn’t give one, she continued. “Everything that happened last night was because of the wine, right?” “And jetlag,” I added to ease her mind. “You were just drunk, right?” “And tired,” I said. And depressed. And unpredictable. And delusional. “Just tired.” “So you are all right now?” “Besides my head feeling like it’s about to implode? Yeah. I’ll be fine.” “Promise?” I didn’t have the chance to lie to my cousin. The bedroom door cracked open, and Aunt Maria leaned into the room, one hand resting on the doorknob, the other presenting the cordless phone. She smiled, I assumed, from seeing Carla and me snuggled up like we were kids again. “Late night stories?” she asked. Carla and I chimed at the same time. “Um—”

“Well—” Aunt Maria chuckled and said with a voice full of nostalgia, “To me, you will always be those little girls.” Carla wrinkled her nose. “Mamma, don’t say things like that,” she complained, embarrassed. She sighed and shook her head. “Really, mamma. You can be so annoying.” Aunt Maria bared a satisfied grin as she teetered the telephone in her hand. “Emily, it’s from California.” My gut tensed. “Dad?” “Olive.” Shit. I pulled the blankets over my head. Not Olive. Not now. Carla pulled the blankets off. “You better talk to her,” Carla warned. “It will only get worse if you wait.” I sucked in air and held it, considering what would happen if Aunt Maria told Olive to call back later, like next year. Finally, I nodded, sat up, crossing my legs Indian style, and stretched my arm out. Aunt Maria handed the phone to me. And I waited until she shut the door before lifting it to my ear. The receiver felt cold against my skin. “Hi Olive,” I said, as innocuous as possible. I braced myself. “Don’t hi me!” she snapped so loud that Carla—who must have heard it, too—began to giggle. “All right. Hello Olive. What’s up?” Olive Sanderson, my best friend since the third grade, claimed to know me better than I knew myself. Not only were we blood-sisters—after touching our pinpricked fingers

together during a fourth grade social studies lesson (instead of paying attention to the teacher)—but we also shared the same birthday. Apparently, since she was born an hour before I was, she could read my mind and boss me around. “Thanks for telling me you’re in Italy.” “Oh, no problem.” “That was sarcasm, you know, because if you recall, you didn’t tell me you were in Italy.” “I didn’t know I was going to Italy until three days ago.” “Was that before or after you broke into the science lab? And was that before or after you didn’t show up for pizza at Fat Louie’s? Brad was waiting for you, you know, and you made me look like an idiot.” “Making you look like an idiot is sort of the least of my worries at the moment, don’t you think?” My brain cells had somehow acquired tiny mallets to pound against my skull. And talking to Olive goaded those vicious cells into trading in the mallets for jackhammers. I wanted to stay calm, but I wasn’t sure how much of this I— or my pounding head—could take. “So you’re not going to come clean and tell me why you smashed up the brand new science lab?” “Don’t you know already?” There was a pause. Of course she didn’t know. Nobody knew except my father and Miss Harper, my—until recently—favorite teacher at Ocean High. “The newspaper reported the damage at over a hundred grand, but my dad thinks it will be closer to two.”

Coincidentally, Olive’s father is the principal of my old school. I felt horrible that he had to clean up my mess, literally. I wondered if he grilled Olive for answers she didn’t have. I said, my voice bitter, “Well, since the money for the science lab came out of my dad’s pocket, I don’t see that it matters. He’ll just pay to have it repaired. Really, Olive, did you just call to yell at me?” “No. But how would you feel if the situation were reversed? After getting out of jail, didn’t you think to call me, your best friend, to tell me you were okay? Do you even know what I had to do to get this number? I had to break into your house, for Christ’s sake.” She laughed, which was a good sign. After taking a deep breath, she said, “Look, I’m sorry. I promised myself not to lose it like this, but I was really worried and hurt you didn’t tell me about your crazyass plan to destroy the science lab. I own a baseball bat, you know. If your reason was good enough, I could have joined in or something.” I chuckled for the first time in days. “I wouldn’t have let you.” “You couldn’t have stopped me.” I buried my face in my hands, knowing what was coming. “Why did you need the gun?” I thought carefully about how to answer that one. “Olive, you know, I’m really hungover right now.” “In other words, you don’t want to answer my question?” “Essentially.”

“Essentially, expect to answer that question the next time we talk.” “Thanks,” I said, releasing some tension in the form of a slow sigh, “for going easy on me.” No your welcome. No goodbye. That was Olive, take her or leave her. The dial tone sounded, and that was that.

When Carla told me to bring a nice dress with me to Italy, it was, with no doubt, for this occasion. Flip flops and jeans didn’t belong among the ruby red velvet seats, the gilded crest above the stage, and the elegant stuccowork that embellished the private boxes and vaulted ceiling. The splendor of this red and gold king’s crown of a theater was like nothing I had ever seen. And then came the moment Carla had been waiting for. A hush settled over the audience while she handed me her pair of opera glasses, and I looked at the stage, waiting with semi-bated breath. Would I cry like Carla prophesized? Or was my cynical heart made of stone? I watched as Lauretta kneeled before her father, looking up at him desperately as she sang, “O mio babbino caro, mi piace e bello, bello…” Stunned by the beautiful melody, I stared, my mouth open in awe at the singer’s ability to show more emotion in that single aria than most people do in an entire year. When the soprano reached the climax, her lungs near to bursting as she threatened to plunge off the Ponte Vecchio, I heard soft

sniffles coming from my left. It was Carla, of course. I, on the other hand, was as dry as the Sahara. The two minute aria finished, and the audience showed its admiration by shouting, “Brava!” or “Bravissima!” while clapping. I turned the opera glasses up to the tiers of private boxes, searching for other girls with tears. If I couldn’t find any, it would prove I wasn’t heartless. The glasses allowed me to see the happy faces of the spectators, and for the briefest of moments, as I witnessed the immense enjoyment this production brought to others, I felt included in something special. I paused on an opera box in the third tier, empty of all guests but one. There was a young man in a tuxedo who wasn’t looking at the stage; the partly shadowed face stared down at me. My intake of breath was sharp as my eyes fought the darkness. It was Giovanni. My eyes locked on his face, and as I continued to stare, I felt an invisible force begin to lift me from my chair. I couldn’t explain it, but I had to go to him. “Can I have the glasses now?” Carla asked. I felt too entranced to answer her. “What are you looking at?” The words fumbled out of me. “I—I have to use the restroom,” I said, thrusting the opera glasses into her hand. “I’ll be right back,” I whispered to Aunt Maria and Uncle Paolo as I squeezed past them. I trained my eyes on Giovanni as I exited our row, a strange excitement bringing a flutter to my stomach.

My low heels echoed in the deserted foyer as I crossed the gleaming stone floor. I found the staircase and continued up to the third tier, finally reaching the long corridor that contained the doors to the private boxes. I wasn’t sure which opera box was Giovanni’s, so I stuck my head into every box on that side of the theater. The guests were too enthralled with Gianni Schicchi to notice me. I came to the last box that could have been his. The door was partly opened already, so I pushed it a few more inches and stuck my head inside. Facing me was a man with broad shoulders, but it wasn’t Giovanni. I noticed this man’s dark eyes and brooding expression first. Then he cracked a smile and reached up to stroke his beard. His hand rested on his chin, shadowing his face and accentuating the hollow of his cheeks. A scar stretched across his nose and under his eyes. He opened the door the rest of the way and stepped closer. “Looking for someone?” he asked slowly, savoring each word. I couldn’t take my eyes from the scar. “Yes, I mean, no...uh…” I began to back away. “Yes, I mean, no…uh…” he copied in a sinister voice. “Confusion doesn’t become you, Miss...?” I told myself not to give him my name, but it slipped out regardless. “Emily Edwards.” He glared at the spot between my eyes, instantly reminding me of the X I thought I had carved into my skin. Instinctively, my hand reached for the bridge of my nose, sliding up to feel for the mark on my forehead. But you had

imagined it, I reassured myself. Still, my fingers searched like
a blind woman feeling the face of a stranger. His eyes lowered to meet mine. “Ah, well, Miss Edwards, the next time you find yourself confused, perhaps I can be of some assistance.” Before I realized what he was doing, he took my hand. His lips brushed my fingers. “Enjoy the opera, Mademoiselle.” The door closed in my face. I didn’t move, trying to make sense of the encounter. Looking down, I realized I held a small, rectangular piece of paper. I turned the business card over and read the blood-colored print. Below his name—Vincent D’Angelo—was an e-mail address, a telephone number, and two questions. Family conflict? Need guidance? It seemed tailor-made to fit my life. I shrugged it off, realizing it was a gimmick like a horoscope in a newspaper—so general, it could apply to anyone. I put the card in my clutch purse and forgot about it by the time I found the ladies room. I splashed my face with water and breathed slowly. Why was I convinced I had seen Giovanni standing in that opera box? Staring at my reflection, I watched the lines of water race down my puzzled face, dropping to my chest and leaving water stains that darkened the red fabric of my dress. As I stood there, with the bathroom stalls behind me, I remembered Olive’s last question from the phone call.

Why did you need the gun?

I formed my fingers into the shape of my father’s semi automatic pistol and pointed it at the Emily in the mirror, a girl I hardly recognized. I couldn’t be sure how long I stood there, but when the restroom door swung open, I jumped and raised my hands into the air. “What are you doing, Emily?” Carla asked. “You have been in here forever. Are you all right?” I stood there, frozen, my mind stuck in a moment that had happened more than a week ago. “Uh, yeah,” I said when she touched my arm. “I’m fine.”

written by Rane Anderson read Chapter Six at thelitexpress.blogspot.com

art by Ashley Stewart ashleystewart-art.com

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