Date: February 13
Location: Rome, Italy
Motivation to Write: Back in business.
Everything in Rome is history. Thousands of years later, people still flock to this city to experience the beauty of a place – not forgotten by time, but rather built around. No corner store nor office building interrupts the broken, yet proud ruins of the city. Even from atop my pedestal of ignorance, the grand structures and piazzas whisper stories. What better place in the world is there to come, looking for inspiration? Every cracked stone is sun-bleached gold.
I have never been a big fan of coffee, but I appreciate the art that goes into making the perfect cup. Beans the color of dark chocolate, roasted to perfection, and ground into a fine dusting of brown gold.
Phil likes to brew his own coffee every day. I've always been a bit of an early-riser, so sitting with him in the kitchen while he makes his coffee every day is how I've gotten to know him.
He actually turns out to be quite an interesting and fun person to be around. He's smart, funny, and despite being fairly wealthy, is very down-to-earth. In the past few weeks, he's told me about his unique upbringing. He was born in Italy, just a few hundred miles outside of Rome, but his parents moved to Chicago soon after his birth for his schooling. After finishing his master's in the University of Pennsylvania, he moved back to Rome to set up a few high-scale restaurants.
He speaks very fondly of his family here and tells me that despite growing up in the US, he's always felt more of an affinity to Rome and Italy, and I really can't blame him.
Rome is easily one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.
Being in Rome feels like being carried back in time. The ancient architecture stands just as proud as it did hundreds of years ago. The cars and more modern buildings seem almost like background noise in comparison to the spectacular, looming structures lurking behind every street corner. Simply being in the presence of the Colosseum or the Temple of Venus and Rome is like stepping foot into the days of its construction. Even the air around the city is electric with excitement.
I've been writing more than ever. I still don't have a story, but my journal entries have grown longer and longer, and oftentimes I go to bed with cramps in my wrist. Each day, I feel refreshed and ready to write more.
I steep my tea and sit down at the island in the middle of the kitchen as I consider the fact that I've been here for almost a month. It simultaneously feels like two days, and a year.
"Someone's deep in thought today." Phil joins me at the island with a steaming hot cup of Italy's best coffee. "Plotting out a bestseller?"
"No, just my plan for world domination." I grin as he chuckles. "I'm actually thinking about how I've been here for almost a month now."
"Huh." He furrows his brows and glances at the calendar on the wall. "I guess you have. That leaves about…five months until you go back."
"That leaves about five months until you get married," I remind him teasingly. "Are you going to be ready to say 'I do' to Renée Martin by then?"
He laughs and shakes his head. "You know, I get that this is hard for you to understand, but she is the love of my life. I'm ready to marry her now."
Almost on cue, angry mutterings from the hallway precede Renée. "…still need to finalize the guest-list, send out the save-the-dates, talk to that crazy photographer…"
She breezes into the room, her nose buried in a notebook as she jots down her thoughts. She stands in a pair of dark-wash, skin-tight designer jeans and a beautiful flowing white top. And heels, of course.
She pauses suddenly in the middle of her scribblings and looks up. She squints for a few seconds, then shakes her head, scratching something out furiously.
"Morning, honey," Phil says cautiously. "You're up early."
"I have a million things to do today, I essentially have to be in ten different places at once. I have to pick out a font for the save-the-dates; I was thinking Castro, but then my snobby friend Marsha said that it looked whorish – what the hell does she know? And the photographer pushed our meeting back again…" Her eyes fall on Phil's coffee. "Oh, thank God."
She nearly flings her notebook across the island and grabs Phil's cup. She takes a long sip and groans, massaging her head. She turns on her heel and starts walking towards the attached family room.
Phil shoots me a look before following her quickly and seizing her by the shoulders. "Okay, you're spinning out a tiny bit here. Why don't you just take a deep breath and tell us what we can do to help."
She sighs and grips his arm with her free hand. "I need a break. I love you, but I don't know how much more of this I can take."
"Okay, then let's take a break."
She gives him a pointed look. "You know we can't do that. We only have five months until the wedding and we're still so far behind. I knew we should have waited until next year."
"Well, I don't know about you, but I want to marry you now." He leans in and gives her a small kiss. "Look, just table everything you have going on. We'll take a few days off and go somewhere nice for some rest. Whatever we need to deal with, it'll be here when we get back. And everything else, I'm sure Bella will be able to handle just fine, right?"
They both turn to me.
I swallow my tea and tip my cup in their direction. "I've got your back, Renée." I wink at her.
She shoots me a grateful smile and sighs. "Some rest does sound nice. A few stress-free days with nothing to worry-" She pauses abruptly and her eyes widen. "Oh, shit! I forgot to call the caterer for the engagement party!"
"Honey, can't it wait?" Phil asks as she slams her cup down on the counter, spilling coffee in every direction.
"I have to call before nine or we lose the deposit!"
We both watch her sprint out of the room.
I take a slow sip of my tea and turn to Phil. "You still want to marry her?" I smirk over the rim of my cup.
He sighs. "I do. God save me."
During my first week in Rome, Guido had taken me to a small café close by to introduce me to his wife, Lorenza. Apparently, she had been asking about me – the American writer who couldn't write.
At that point, I'd been yearning for any company that wasn't Renée, so I'd been all to eager to go with him. I was happy to find that I actually quite enjoyed Lorenza's company. She, like her husband, speaks perfect English and is one of the sweetest women I've ever met.
Whenever I'd been feeling a little lonely, or stressed from still having no story, or Renée had been driving me crazy, she would welcome me with a cup of tea and a listening ear. She'd even been kind enough to act as my tour guide a few times.
It hadn't taken me long to figure out that she was shy, but brilliant. She doesn't say very much, but the little she does say is carefully thought-out and powerful.
She is a little taller than me with beautiful black hair and I am perpetually jealous of her tan skin the color of perfectly-cooked pizza crusts.
"Some rest for Renée is good," She says after I tell her about this morning's events. "And for you too, I think."
I hum vaguely in agreement. "It can't be a bad thing." I fiddle with the tablecloth. "You should come over when they're gone."
"I would love to." Lorenza smiles widely.
We sit in the back of the café, observing the people that come and go.
"I need a job," I say, sighing. "I can't just sit around waiting for a story to come to me. I feel so useless."
"If you need a job, you can always come work here. We could use more English-speaking waiters. But I don't think that is your problem. You seem…uneasy." She pauses. "Is it because of a man?"
My thoughts flash briefly to the last lingering kisses that Edward placed on my lips before he left my life.
I take a deep breath and chuckle. "No."
In truth, not a day had gone by where I hadn't thought of him. He was almost always on my mind during the day and on an endless loop in my dreams at night. Never in my life had I felt an instant connection with someone like I'd felt with him; I'd thought that they just didn't exist. Thinking about him makes my throat dry and my stomach clench.
What hits me the hardest is knowing that he's out there and knowing that I still can't have him. I'm eight-years-old again and too short to reach the cookies. I almost wish I hadn't met him.
We'd only had a few days together. A few days too many or a few days too little.
Lorenza shoots me a knowing look as I retreat into my silence, but doesn't say anything.
Sandro, one of the more handsome waiters, makes his way over to our table and asks if he can get us anything. I decline and thank him politely. He nods but lingers, staring at me a bit too long for comfort. He finally smiles and retreats when I give no indication of taking the conversation further.
Lorenza and I watch him leave before she turns and smiles softly. "Sandro talks about you after you leave, you know."
I raise an eyebrow at her and chuckle. "I'm not here for Sandro."
"You're not here for yourself. Then who are you here for, Bella?"
Renée, I want to say. Something about the way she asks makes me doubt myself.
She pats my hand and gets up to go help in the kitchen.
The next day is an early rise for all of us.
Phil has planned a relaxing getaway to a nearby lakeside town for Renée and himself and they have to leave early in order to avoid traffic. So at 6:30 in the morning, the house is alive and filled with the sounds of bags being hauled down the stairs by Phil (he refuses to let anyone help him), and Renée stressing out about anything and everything (does your assistant know that we're leaving? does mine? do we have the keys?).
It's a startling difference from the quiet that I usually enjoy at this time of day.
Knowing that Phil probably needs help dealing with Renée's crazy, I make my way downstairs. Three suitcases stand at the door, two-and-a-half of which I'm willing to bet my entire shoe collection belong to Renée. One would think she'd pack a little lighter for just a weekend getaway.
God help us all when she packs for her honeymoon.
Dressed in a puffy white jacket, Renée runs her hands through her hair while muttering – mostly to herself. She jumps when she sees me. "Bella, there you are. You know where the fire extinguisher is, right? And the first aid kit?"
Phil rolls his eyes at me over her shoulder as he yanks open the front door.
I bite my lip to contain my laugh. "Yeah, I know."
My relationship with Renée hasn't blossomed quite as nicely as mine with Phil has. I do my best to put aside the bitterness and on most days, I can even forget that it's there. She's nice to me (sometimes overly nice), and I'm nice to her, and we can get along just fine. She's still completely crazy, but it's a crazy that I can deal with.
I don't think that she's fully grasped the fact that I am an adult now, though. I suppose that for her, parenting me stopped twelve years ago when the divorce was finalized. Interactions between us after that had been limited and tense, at best.
"And how about the dishwasher – you know how to work that, right? If you have any problems, just leave it for Carlotta," she refers to the sweet cleaning lady that stops by twice a week.
"I think I can figure it out," I say slowly, glancing at Phil for help.
"Renée, she can handle it," Phil says with a touch of exasperation. "We're going to hit traffic, come on."
"Okay, okay." Renée takes a deep breath and grabs a hold of the handle for one suitcase while Phil takes the other two. "Oh, and no house parties!"
Phil and I both turn to stare at her.
She winces. "Or…you're too old for that stuff. Sorry."
Phil all but pushes Renée out the door in front of him and I watch as they make their way towards their car. I smile and wave as they finally pull out of the driveway.
Closing the door behind me, I turn to face the empty house and wonder what in the hell I'm supposed to do now.
"Rome seems nice. They're taking good care of you over there, aren't they?" My dad's voice sounds from my laptop on the counter as I set about chopping some peppers for dinner.
"They're taking great care of me. Really, I want for nothing."
All I hear is a gruff 'hmph' in response.
I smile slightly and shake my head, turning to look at him. "Phil's actually pretty cool, dad."
"He's 'cool', is he?"
"Yes, he's cool." I walk over to the counter and empty the cutting board full of peppers into a small bowl. "He's well-mannered, smart, and treats Renée well. Isn't that what you said I should look for in any man I'm interested in?"
"What I remember saying is that you shouldn't be interested in any man, period." He leans back and takes a sip from a can of Budweiser.
I roll my eyes. "When I told you that Jimmy Conroy was my prom date, you asked me if he was well-mannered, smart, and treated me well. Don't act like you don't remember."
"Yeah yeah, I remember." He takes another long sip from his can before chuckling slightly. "Didn't stop me from pulling my shotgun out on 'im when he came by to pick you up."
"I still resent you for that." I point at him with my knife for emphasis as I head over to the sink.
A silence falls over our conversation for a few moments as I wash up the knife and the cutting board. The hot, soapy water feels comforting against my hands, like someone is holding on to them.
"I worry about you, you know," he finally says. I glance up to see him massaging his face with one hand before leveling me with a genuine stare. "You don't sound the same. Before you left for New York, you were confused about your writing and all that, but when you called me from there, you just…" He pauses and shakes his head. "You can talk to me. About anything."
I know what he's talking about. Alice had mentioned it a while back too. Maybe I am different, a bit more subdued. But how can I explain to any of them why I think I feel this way?
Six months in one of the greatest cities in the world, planning an elaborate wedding, a great set of friends and family to help me along…complaining would make me look crazy. But beyond all of that, I can't help but feel like I've been cheated somehow.
Cheated out of something that everyone around me seems to have.
I see it everyday with Renée and Phil. They fell in love over a year ago in Italy, of all places, and they still look at each other like they need the other to breathe.
Shaking my head, I yank my hands out of the embrace of the soapy water and grab a towel to dry them. "Thanks for the concern, dad, but I'm fine."
He narrows his eyes, but lets it go and focuses his attention back on his beer.
The shrill ringing of the landline suddenly fills the kitchen and I hurry over to grab it. I glance at the caller ID.
"It's Phil." I look over at my Dad. "Do you mind if I take this really quickly? It could be important."
He rolls his eyes and grunts.
I take that as an approval and answer the phone. Phil quickly tells me that both Renée and he are fine, but that he really needs my help in taking an important folder over to one of his restaurants to hand over to the manager. I happen to know this particular restaurant fairly well, having been there so many times in the past few weeks, so I readily agree.
After hanging up I turn back to my computer where my dad raises an impatient brow. "How long does a damn phone call take?"
According to Phil, coming back to his family in Italy each year was like adding ten more mothers. In setting up his restaurants, he named each one after one of his close relatives who'd helped in raising him.
My favorite, and the one he has asked me to deliver the folder to, is named after his biological mother, Adrianna. It's his first restaurant and the most traditionally beautiful. With a menu crafted by a Michelin-star chef, and beautiful panoramic views of St. Peter's Basilica sitting in the distance, Adrianna is one of the most renown restaurants in the entire city. People wait months to get a reservation.
I tell the host who I am, and I'm quickly ushered through the back and into the office of the manager. The manager, Mr. Evans, is one of Phil's most trusted colleagues from back in university. He's originally from the UK but he had relocated here with his family at Phil's request a couple of years back to take over in managing a few restaurants.
I've met him quite a few times since I've been here and he's always been very friendly. He stands just a few inches taller than me, with a slightly receding hairline, and a stomach that strains against the buttons on his shirt. In previous conversations, he's blamed Italian food and a wife that loves to cook for his weight gain.
"Bella, how are you?" He greets jovially as he stands from his desk to give me a hug. He looks me up and down. "You look wonderful!"
"Thanks, Mr. Evans, you too. How's your family?"
"Both fine, take a seat." He gestures to the seat opposite him. I sit down and dig through my bag for the file that I'd brought. "I've told you to call me Bill about a hundred times now. You make me feel so old."
I just grin and fish out the file.
"You don't come around much anymore," He remarks as he accepts the file.
"I have five months here, and I have dreams about the chocolate soufflé. Believe me, I'll be here so often, you'll be itching to have me kicked out."
He chuckles. "From what I hear, you've been the one doing the kicking out. It's only been three weeks and you already have Phil and Renée running for the hills."
I laugh and shrug. "What can I say? I like my space."
There's a knock on the door and it opens to reveal a young man dressed in the required waiter's uniform. He glances at me and hesitates. "I'm so sorry, Mr. Evans, I did not know that you were in a meeting…I can come back."
"Not to worry; what is it?"
"He is here, sir."
"Ah. I'll be right out." Mr. Evans gets out of his chair and it groans slightly in relief. "As much as I love your company, I'm afraid that we'll have to talk some other time, Bella. Work calls, you know."
"Of course, I'm sorry if I disturbed you." I get up.
He waves off my apology places a hand on my back to escort me out. "No, not at all, you're not a disturbance. I just need to stretch these legs out. Besides, we have a VIP coming in, and I'd like to greet him personally."
"Oh, wow. Anyone I would know?"
"Well, it's not Tom Cruise." I pretend to scowl at him as he grins teasingly at me. "Actually, why don't you come along, I'll introduce you. You can be Phil's proxy."
"I'll try not to lose your business."
I follow Mr. Evans through the entry corridor where diners can appreciate the fabulous art on either sides of the wall before sitting down for dinner. I've always liked this particular part of the restaurant; it feels like being inside of a museum.
"Mr. Cullen, it's an absolute pleasure to meet you. I'm James Evans, I'm the manager here. We've been so looking forward…"
Everything Mr. Evans says after that becomes background noise.
He could be reading out the Miranda rights, and I wouldn't notice. And it's all because over his plump shoulder, I see a shade of emerald green that I thought I would never see again.
A/N: Hope you enjoyed that! This will be the last chapter before a small break in posting – don't worry, it won't be too long. A sincere 'thank-you' to everyone who's reviewed, everyone who's recommended this story – you guys are the real MVPs. Please let me know what you think about this chapter, this story so far, etc., and I'll see you soon!