Romantic Shorts presents a contemporary mystery of the heart, as we follow university student Emma through a labyrinth of life, lies, and longing. Our first offering by New Zealand native Kathy Servian reminds us all of the naiveté and energy of youth, and the intensity that new love can add.
Welcome. And enjoy!
by Kathy Servian
What the hell is that?
There it is again.
Okay, I’m awake now.
I’m tingling all over and every hair stands on end as I stare into the darkness. After a few moments of silence, my heart stops jumping around in my chest and I snuggle back down. Maybe I imagined it. I’ll just try to go back to slee…
Okay, that’s it! I’m getting up.
Reluctantly, I roll over, enjoying the last few moments of warmth, before reaching for the bedside lamp. Click – dim yellow light fills the room. Shapes slowly come into focus; I blink repeatedly, trying to clear the sleep from my eyes. Dark shadows pool in the corners of my room, refusing to yield to the light. The wind’s blowing hard outside. Trees move against the side of the house – dragging, scratching. There’s an eerie high pitched whistle. While I know it’s just air passing through narrow gaps in the decorative woodwork and into the roof cavity, it still makes my skin crawl.
Okay, okay I said that I’m getting up didn’t I? As my legs slide out from under the blankets, the cool air slaps me. I draw in a sharp intake of breath, bracing myself. My toes curl as they touch the floorboards – as cold as ice. Do I really have to get up?
Yes, I really have to get up. My robe is hanging on the back of the door. Two quick leaps and it’s in my hand, another heartbeat and it’s on my body. Okay, I’m warm now, well warmish. Blinking the last few blurry patches away, I stumble down the hall.
I blunder into the wall. Ow, my arm!
The stairs fall away into inky blackness in front of me. Hold the banister Emma or you’ll fall and break your neck. A nervous giggle escapes me. That’ll be a fine sight for your flatmate to find in the morning won’t it? You sprawled dead at the bottom of the stairs.
As my foot hovers above the bottom step, I shudder; there’s a breeze blowing through the house like an arctic gale. It feels like I’m in a wind tunnel as I turn into the kitchen and shuffle over the scuffed linoleum. The back door yawns and eerie yellow light streams in from outside. The door starts to swing shut again, so I lunge forward, my fingers gripping the wood. No, you don’t, I tell the door, pushing it closed. It bounces back out of the frame, so I push it again. There’s no click. No feeling of security.
As I peer at the lock, a creeping crawling sense of unease starts at my feet and works its way up my body until it’s curling its icy tendrils around the back of my neck. Even in the gloom, I can see that the wood around the lock is ripped – bulging out, like a wound.
With my senses on high alert, I turn my back to the door – my sweaty fingers still locked in a death grip on the handle. My terrified mind turns every shadow into a lurking intruder.
Suddenly I’m blinded – blinking, trying to shield myself from the light that’s flooding the room, banishing the shadows and causing my eye sockets to ache.
“What are you doing?” The voice is terse, irritable. As my vision clears, my flatmate, Chloe comes into view. Her stance matches her tone. She has one hip thrust to the side, arms folded over her chest. Her face is contorted into a deep frown.
“The door was banging in the wind. I tried to lock it, but it’s busted. Take a look.” I step back to allow her a better view of the door.
She stomps over, casting me a narrow-eyed sideways glance. Chloe’s bad-tempered at the best of times, but being dragged out of bed at three in the morning has not improved her demeanor.
“It looks like it’s been …forced open.” She looks up at me, a hint of fear now in her eyes. “You don’t think that someone…is..still..?”
“I don’t know. I hope not.”
“Let’s look around.”
We creep around the house, jumping at our own shadows. I let out an involuntary and totally inappropriate giggle.
“Shhh!” Chloe hisses.
“Sorry, I can’t help it, I laugh when I’m nervous,” I whisper. All I can think of are those episodes of Scooby Doo where the Mystery Crew are looking for ghosts in creepy old abandoned warehouses. I giggle again, and Chloe glares at me.
As we enter the living room the empty TV table, with a ring in the dust where my small TV used to be, is immediately obvious. A sweep of the room reveals my stereo and laptop are also gone. I groan. Suddenly the situation is not so funny.
“Damn it, I was going to organise insurance for my stuff …sometime.” I throw myself down on the sofa. “This sucks. It’s not like we had much to take. They should’ve gone next door. They’ve got much better stuff than us.”
Chloe sits down next to me and tentatively places one hand lightly on my shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
I shrug, giving the impression of nonchalance, but tears are stinging my ears. It’s just stuff, don’t be a baby, Emma. “Let’s go back to bed. There’s nothing that we can do about it now.”
We jam the table against the broken door and go back to our rooms.
After lying in bed, jumping at every sound for four hours I haul myself out of bed. Something is different about my room, something’s gone. Oh, crap! My handbag isn’t on the chair by the dresser where I always leave it. I search frantically, throwing clothes around before thumping down on the bed with an exasperated groan. I do a quick mental inventory of the damage.
Wallet – credit card, library card, student ID etc…etc… damn!
Cash? – None, I’m a student.
Make up – annoying, but I can live without it.
Cell phone – damn, damn and triple damn!
My grandmother’s signet ring – my mum will kill me when she finds out.
At least, my keys were in my coat pocket.
Then it dawns on me – the burglar must have come into my room when I was asleep. Before I have a chance for the horror of that thought to roll over me, there’s a tap on my door.
“You okay?” Chloe asks as she comes in and leans against the dresser. She looks tired too.
“He was in my room.”
“My bag is gone, it was on the chair.” I point at the empty space surrounded by a messy pile of clothes.
Chloe frowns. “Look, I have to go to work now. Will you be okay?”
I pause for a moment.
“Yeah, of course.”
I don’t have a class until two today. I should go to the library, or do some revision, but I have an overwhelming sense of lethargy – sitting on the sofa in the living room, not moving, for most of the morning. When I uncurl my legs, they’re numb.
As I shuffle into the kitchen my eyes settle on the broken door. Somehow this inspires me into action and I reach for the clunky old kitchen phone. I find the process of booking a locksmith, calling the bank, the library and student services to organise replacement cards, therapeutic. As if taking some sort of action makes me less of a victim. There’s a knock at the front door just as I get off the phone. The handle turns and it flies open, hitting the wall with a thud. My friend Meg stands in the doorway clutching a bag of fried chicken and chips from Clucky’s, the fast food place where she works. The smell of grease tickles my nose and my tummy rumbles.
“Hi,” she sing-songs.
I cringe, not sure I’m in the mood for her insatiable happiness today. She befriended me about three months ago when she served me at the takeout and I’ve been unable to shake her since. While the free chicken is good, the constantly showing up at my house, wanting to hang out, is not.
“Are you gonna go into class this afternoon?” She asks me as she bounds past and begins to pull crockery from the cupboards without asking.
“I dunno. We got broken into last night. I’m kind of shattered.”
She gives an over-exaggerated gasp and pulls me into a tight hug.
“Oh, Emma, that’s terrible. I really don’t think you should go into uni today. We can hang out. I’ll keep you company.”
Suddenly this afternoon’s class is looking very appealing.
“Sorry I have to go, I have exams in a few weeks. I can’t afford to miss any classes.”
She pouts. “You’re very resilient. If it was me, I’d want to lock myself in my room and never come out. I’d probably even quit uni and go home to my parents.”
This seems like an over-reaction. But then Meg seems very anti-university. She’s suggested I quit several times. I shrug. “No point in crying over spilt milk eh?”
“I suppose so.” She doesn’t seem convinced.
By the time I get to class, the lecture hall is packed. I scan the sea of faces, wondering if the person who broke into the flat is in this room. I unintentionally lock eyes with a guy sitting right at the back. He smiles at me. I look away immediately. He’s cute, but I’m not in the mood for flirting today.
After the lecture, the guy approaches me. Tall and lanky, he’s wearing black skinny jeans, a grey tee shirt and a battered black jacket. I can feel the heat creep up my cheeks. I’m surprised that I haven’t noticed him before today, he’s just my type.
“Hi, I’m Luca,” he says. He has a nice smile.
“Hi, I’m Emma.”
“Um, would you like to go out for coffee sometime?”
I’m surprised that he doesn’t even bother with small talk.
“Tomorrow, after class?”
“Meet you right here at four?”
I stare at his back as he strides away, rucksack swinging off one shoulder. Did my scanning the room for the burglar just land me a date with a cute guy? Perhaps this day isn’t a complete write-off after all.
When I get home, Meg’s standing on the porch.
“Hi, I’ve been worried about you all afternoon. Just thought I’d check up– see how your lecture went.
While I’m tired, I’m glad Meg’s here because I’m busting to tell someone about my date tomorrow. I let us inside.
“Actually, I had a great afternoon. I met a guy after class. His name’s Luca.” I blurt before we even sit down.
A look of surprise passes over Meg’s face – not the reaction I was hoping for.
“Oh, that’s nice,” she replies, her tone flat.
Undaunted by her lack of enthusiasm, I babble on about how our eyes met when I was scanning the room for the burglar, and how he asked me out, and how cute he is. All the time Meg’s expression remains impassive. Suddenly she springs up off the couch and heads for the door.
“Are you going?” I ask.
“Yeah, I just remembered that I have to work. I’ll..um..see you later.” The front door bangs and she’s gone.
After class the following day, I wait at the agreed place for Luca. Feeling self-conscious and slightly nervous, I bury my nose in a book – pretending to be oblivious to my surroundings.
“Hi,” Luca’s voice breaks into my charade. “You look really nice today, Emma.”
I look up; trying to appear casually disinterested, but can’t help the blush that creeps up my face as I gaze into his dark brown eyes. I make some sort of incoherent grunt in reply. Very cool, Emma.
“Shall we go?” he asks, placing his hand in the small of my back.
I nod. Afraid to speak in case I say something stupid.
Condensation runs down the steamy windows in the bustling cafe. I shift uncomfortably in my seat as sweat trickles down my back. I watch Luca walk towards our table carrying our coffees, and butterflies flutter in my stomach. Be cool, Emma.
“Where are you from, Emma?” His long fingers wrap around the rim of his coffee cup.
“Taupo,” I reply. “How about you?”
“Right here in Wellington – Island Bay. My family has lived in the same house my whole life.”
“So you live at home with your parents?”
“No, I decided to go flatting when I started uni. My place is on the Terrace.”
“Wouldn’t it be cheaper just to live at home?”
Luca’s smiling as if there’s a private joke I’m not privy to. “My parents have certain expectations, but I’ve chosen not to conform.”
I stare at him blankly. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
“Okay, I’ll try and explain.” He leans back in his seat. “I was born in New Zealand, but my parents are from Italy. They’re very traditional in their views. It’s always been their expectation that I would live at home with them until I married. But I decided to go flatting, which is unheard of in our community. They weren’t happy – my mother cried and threw herself on the ground in a fit of hysteria on the day I moved out.”
I stifle the urge to giggle, unable imagine my mother ever showing that level of emotion. She and Dad waved me goodbye and went to play golf on the day that I packed up and moved to Wellington to go university. Staying at home with my parents until I’m married is not something I’d even consider.
He quickly changes the subject. We talk about the classes we have in common, books we’ve read, movies we’ve seen, just general chit chat – but it’s nice. He’s funny and sweet. We both look up, surprised when the lights come on in the café. I check my watch – we’ve been talking for over two hours. I have an essay due tomorrow so I reluctantly stand up to go.
“Can I see you again?” Luca asks, “tomorrow?”
I do a little dance on the inside. “Sure. I’ll give you my cell number, but don’t use it till tomorrow morning cause that’s when I pick up my new phone. You text me, then I’ll have your number too.”
The next day, it takes me twice as long as it usually does to get ready. I fuss over my clothes and hair. Normally I could care less what I look like, but suddenly it’s important. I arrive at class five minutes late and search the sea of faces for Luca. I can’t see him anywhere. I check my new phone several times during the lecture, but there’s no text. I can’t help feeling disappointed.
After study group the following morning, I again look around for Luca. I haven’t seen or heard anything from him since the day before yesterday. Maybe the date didn’t go as well as I thought.
As I’m walking home for lunch I feel a hand on the small of my back. I turn and Luca’s there, smiling at me.
“Sorry, I haven’t been in touch. I had to go home yesterday, just an issue with a family friend. I couldn’t find my phone charger when I got back to my flat so my battery’s been dead since yesterday, or I would have texted you this morning.” He pauses. “Are you going home for lunch?”
“Yup, do you want to join me?”
“I’d love to.”
As we walk through the park, the sky darkens and freezing rain suddenly pours down on us. By the time we reach the front porch we’re both soaked to the skin.
“The bathroom’s through there if you want to strip off. I’ll bring you a towel. Your clothes can go in the dryer while we have lunch,” I say after we tumble through the door into the hallway. I dash upstairs to change.
When I get back from depositing Luca’s clothes in the laundry, he’s standing in the middle of the kitchen with just a towel wrapped around his waist. I pretend I haven’t noticed and bustle around, chattering inanely. He steps towards me, seemingly calm in the middle of my fluttering nervousness.
“Emma, is it okay if I kiss you?”
I nod mutely. Of course it’s okay.
The rain is pelting against the roof; but it’s quiet inside the house, as if time’s standing still. My skin pebbles as he stands so close I can feel him breathing. I close my eyes and he touches his lips to mine. It’s the perfect first kiss. All I’m aware of are his body and mine and how incredible this feels. I have no idea how long we’re locked together. But I feel instantly bereft when pulls back.
“You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that,” he says.
I know I should say something witty in reply, but my brain doesn’t seem to be working so I just mumble something about making lunch.
The rain’s stopped by the time we walk back to uni together. I feel his fingers tentatively finding mine and I can’t stop smiling. After the lecture, where I didn’t hear a single word the professor said, Luca and I part ways in the quad. He holds me around my waist and we share another lingering kiss. I could get used to this.
“Geez get a room.” A young guy in jeans and a heavy coat rolls his eyes as he slopes past.
“Shall I come over in a couple of hours with dinner? Maybe we can pick up where we left off?” Luca whispers in my ear.
I smile and nod.
“I’d like that.”
I hum to myself as I skip home. Grabbing my discarded wet clothes from my bedroom floor, I wander down to the laundry. The dryer door swings open and just before I stuff my clothes inside something catches my eye in the base of the drum. I reach in and grab it. As I look down at the object in my hand, I’m initially blank. Then a sense of unease washes over me – it’s my grandmother’s signet ring. I know for a fact that the ring was in my bag when it went missing. A heavy knot starts to form in my stomach as my mind considers all the possibilities for how to ring could have got into the dryer. I eliminate them one by one until the thought that I’m trying not to entertain is the only one that remains. Could it have been in Luca’s pocket and fallen out when his clothes were in the dryer? I put the ring on my middle finger. I’m being irrational, why would Luca have my ring? I have to talk to someone about this. Chloe’s staying at her boyfriend’s place tonight so I grab my coat and head out into the gathering dusk.
I sit at a tatty Formica table at the back of Clucky’s and wait until it’s Meg’s break time. She isn’t my first choice as confidant, but I need advice now and she’s available.
“You know that guy I was telling you about, the one I had a date with?” I ask her as we walk down the dim corridor towards the staff lunch room.
She shrugs. “I suppose, what about him?”
“I think he had my grandmother’s ring in his pocket today, the one that was in my bag when it was stolen.”
She frowns. “How do you know he had it? Did he show it to you?” she asks.
“No, we got soaked in the rain today when we were going to my place for lunch, so I put his clothes in the dryer. When I went to dry my clothes later, the ring was in the bottom of the dryer.”
“He was at your place with no clothes on?” Meg scowls. “Emma, you need to be more careful.” She leans forward. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this guy. He just appears and asks you out the day after the break-in. And now he somehow has your grandmother’s ring in his pocket. It’s like he’s a weird stalker or something.”
I sigh. “That thought crossed my mind too.”
Meg grasps my hand over the sticky table. “Just promise me you won’t go out with him again, okay?”
“Okay, I promise.” I look at my watch. “But he’s supposed to be coming over to my place in less than an hour. I can’t text and tell him not to come cause I don’t have his number.” I curse under my breath. “Can you come home with me Meg? I don’t want to be alone when he gets there.”
She shakes her head. “Sorry, I can’t, we’re short staffed. Just don’t go home, go to the library or something. I’ll meet you there after my shift finishes at ten.”
“Okay, thanks, Meg.” I give her a hug. Perhaps I’ve misjudged her.
It starts raining again as I walk through the dark towards the library. I stand on the front steps and shake the drops off my hair.
“Emma! I was just heading over your way!” A familiar voice makes my stomach clench. I spin around as Luca bounds up the steps towards me, a huge grin on his face. Before I can speak he has me in his arms, his lips pressed against mine. I want to melt against him, but instead, I push back. He frowns.
I hold up my finger. “This is what’s wrong, Luca.”
“It’s my grandmother’s signet ring.”
He steps towards me and peers at the ring. I’m scanning his face for any sign of a reaction, there’s none. “I don’t understand,” he says, looking confused. Either he really knows nothing about the ring or he’s a very good actor – I can’t tell which.
“Remember that I told you about the break-in at my flat?”
He shrugs. “Yeah.”
“Well, this ring was in my handbag when it was stolen.”
“I don’t understand what this has to do with me.”
“The ring was in the bottom of the dryer this afternoon after your clothes had been in there.”
His expression is blank. Then a frown forms.
“You think I had your ring?” he says after a moment.
“Well it all just seems a bit convenient, don’t you think? My flat is robbed and then you just happen to appear in my class as if by magic the next day. Maybe you liked the look of me when you saw me asleep – when you came into my room to steal my bag. My timetable was on my laptop, so you’d know when I’d be in class. How come I’ve never noticed you before, eh?”
He’s staring at me like I’m a crazy person. Suddenly I feel ridiculous.
His frown deepens. “You think I broke into your flat and now I’m stalking you?”
“Well…Meg thought…” I babble as panic mounts.
He steps back, hurt written all over his face. “I can’t believe that you could think that about me. I’ve never seen that ring before and I have no idea how it got in your dryer. I’ve been in that class all year. But clearly you’ve just been too stuck up to notice me. I really liked you, Emma. It’s taken months to get up the courage to ask you out. But now I know you, I’m not sure you’re someone I want to spend my time with.”
“Oh,” I say, feeling stupid and small.
“I guess I’ll see you in class. That is if you even notice that I’m there.” He turns and runs down the steps and off into the dark and the rain. I slump back against the wall for a moment, I totally stuffed that up. I sigh, before pushing the library door open and going inside. After finding a seat amongst all the evening studiers, I sit there and stare into space, cursing my own stupidity. Eventually, I decide I’ll call Meg later and I drag myself back to my feet and head home.
As I pass the café where Luca and I had coffee earlier today, I peer through the window at the couples huddled together around tables and I’m overwhelmed with regret. The light glows warm and yellow from the inside, casting a bright rectangle on the damp pavement. As I scan the faces, I stop on one that is familiar. Meg is sitting at one of the tables. I check my watch, sure that she said she would be at work until ten – it’s barely nine. She’s deep in conversation with someone. Desperate to talk to her about Luca, I pull the door open and walk inside. The background hum and the smell of coffee fill the air. As I step towards Meg’s table she looks up, her face falls. Her companion swivels in his chair to face me. The air is sucked out of my lungs when I realise that she’s with Luca and their hands are clasped together over the table. Without thinking, I turn and run. The air stings my cheeks and as I run blindly towards home.
“Emma, wait, I can explain.” Meg’s shoes clip clop on the pavement behind me.
I keep running. There’s nothing she can say that can make this situation okay. I stumble up the path and into the house, locking the door behind me. She’s on the veranda, banging on the door moments later. “Emma, let me in.”
Then I hear heavier footfalls and another voice. It’s Luca.
“Fio, what the hell is going on?”
“I told you to wait for me at the coffee shop, Luca. You have to go, you’re ruining everything.”
I open the door slowly and peer out into the gloom. Luca’s standing on the porch. He has hold of Meg’s upper arm. She glares at him, then at me. He turns to look at me. I have no idea what’s going on. Meg struggles to free herself, but Luca doesn’t let go of her.
“What the hell is going on?” he barks, his eyes darting between us.
“I have no idea. How do you know Meg?” I reply.
“Who the hell is Meg?” he asks.
“This is Meg. She works at Clucky’s”
“No, this is Fio. We’ve been neighbors our whole lives.”
We both turn and look at Fio. She scowls and drops her eyes, shuffling her feet.
“I want a lawyer.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Luca snaps. “Just tell me what’s going on, Fio.”
She clamps her mouth shut. Luca pulls her into the house and deposits her with a bump on one of the kitchen chairs, then stands back – his arms folded over his chest. I follow them into the kitchen and stand on the far side of the table. I realise that I’m just a spectator in whatever drama is unfolding between them. I cast a furtive glance at Luca, but all his attention is focused on Fio.
“Start talking,” Luca says. She shakes her head. Luca pulls out his phone. “I’m gonna call your parents right now if you don’t tell me what the hell is going on.”
Her head comes up sharply, her eyes wide. “You wouldn’t.”
“Try me.” He swipes his fingertip across the screen of his phone.
Fio’s hands fly up in an indication of defeat. “Okay, okay, just sit down and I’ll tell you.” She looks up at me, “both of you.”
Luca and I sit opposite each other at the table but don’t make eye contact.
Fio sighs and closes her eyes and then begins to speak. “My name isn’t Meg, It’s Fiorella and I’ve known Luca all my life,” she says quietly. “Luca’s had a crush on you since the beginning of the year when he first saw you in class, Emma. Every time he came home to see his mum and dad, he would come over to my place and go on and on to me about this amazing, beautiful red-head in his class – bla bla bla.” She waves her hand dismissively. “I thought it would pass, but when I met him for lunch at uni a few months ago, he pointed you out to me in the quad. The way he was mooning over you was sickening. I knew he was into you in a big way.” She glares at me. “After lunch that day, when Luca had gone to his study group, I followed you. You went into Clucky’s for lunch. My uncle owns the place so I asked him if I could have a job there.
“Why?” I asked.
“To make friends with you.”
“Why?” I repeated.
“I had to try and keep you away from Luca.”
“But why?” Luca asks.
“You’ve really got no clue?” she eyes him, her face twisted into a scowl.
Fio groans and rolls her eyes.
“Because you’re meant for me, Luca.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“It’s all been decided since we were kids. Our parents set it up between them. You’re going to take over Dad’s business when he retires and you and I are going to be married.”
Luca scoffs. “That’s ridiculous, Fio. I have no interest in your dad’s business and nobody has arranged marriages these days, it’s archaic.”
Fio shakes her head. “You’re wrong, Luca. Our parents had arranged marriages. To them it’s completely normal.”
“When was I going to be let in on this plan?”
“They told me last year, but before they could tell you, you went all rebellious and announced that you were going to uni and going flatting, which kind of stuffed up their plans. Why do you think your mum made such a scene when you moved out?”
There’s silence. I can see Luca trying to take it all in.
“I love you, Fio” He leans over the table and takes Fio’s hand in his. I feel my spine straighten involuntarily, “but as my friend – nothing more. It would be like marrying my little sister.” Fio frowns and I release a breath I didn’t realise I was holding. “Is that what you want – to marry me?” Luca asks.
Fio pauses for a moment. “I think of you as a brother, Luca and no I don’t particularly want to marry you. But Mum and Dad said that if I didn’t marry you then they’d bring some second cousin out from Italy who I don’t even know. At least, if I’m married to you, I’ll be able to do what I want with my life.” She pulls her hand free of his. “Then you messed it all up by falling for some girl in your class.” She turns and glares at me. “I knew that I had to do something to keep you two apart, or I was going to married off to some distant relative.”
“I don’t understand why you just didn’t tell me all this? We could have gone to our parents together and talked some sense into them. If we stood up to them, there’d be nothing they could do.” Luca said.
“It’s different for you, Luca. You’re a guy, you have options. As a girl, I have no choice. I have to do what my parents say.”
“You don’t need their approval to live the life you want. We’re in twenty-first century New Zealand, you have options.”
She looks up at him.
“Do I, Luca?”
They look at each other for a moment. I see my opportunity to ask a question.
“So, you just made friends with me to stop me dating Luca?” I ask Fio.
She nods. “I’d been keeping a close eye on you. So I knew that Luca was still obsessing about you from afar. But then he told me last week that he’d finally worked up the courage to ask you out and he was going to do it the following day after class. I panicked. All I could think of to do was stage the break-in and hope that if you had no handbag or laptop that you’d have to miss class. That would buy me some time to come up with a better plan. But it didn’t work, Emma. You still went to class and Luca asked you out just as he had planned.”
“So you broke my door, robbed my house and scared the shit out of me and my flatmate just to keep Luca away from me?” I sit back for a moment. “And you don’t actually fancy him; he’s just your ticket to freedom from your parents?”
“I know it’s difficult for you to understand, but my whole future depends on this.” She sighs. “But I realised pretty much straight away that it was a stupid plan – and I feel bad about it, honestly.”
“And my ring, how did it get in the dryer?”
“I slipped it into Luca’s jacket pocket last night when he came to see his parents. I thought that you’d find it in your pocket, Luca and show it to Emma, she’d recognize it, freak out and break it off with you.”
“Did you really think all this through, Fio? If Emma had gone to the police I could have got into a lot of trouble.” Luca shakes his head.
“Isn’t it obvious that I didn’t think it through at all? Nothing went as planned, neither of you did what I expected. It was a complete disaster.” She hangs her head, a tear falling off her cheek onto her shaking hands.
Despite everything she’s done, I feel sorry for her. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have your parents putting that kind of pressure on you.
“Look, Meg – sorry I mean, Fio, I can’t pretend to understand what you’re dealing with at home, but clearly it’s pretty full on and I can see that you’re sorry. So can we put this behind us and move on?”
She looks up at me, tears streaming down her face. “Despite just making friends with you to keep you away from Luca, I’ve come to really like you, Emma. Do you think we can be friends – after everything I’ve done?”
I smile. “Sure.”
“Your TV and other stuff are under my bed at home. I’ll bring them back to you.” She looks up at Luca. “You’re not going to tell on me are you, Luca?”
Luca shakes his head. “Of course not; I just wish you’d told me what was going on.”
A couple of hours later, I stand on the doorstep of my flat and watch as Fio and Luca hug each other before she jumps into the back of a taxi. Then she’s gone; back home to her parent’s house and a future where she’s going to have to be very strong if she’s ever to live the life she wants to live. But I know that, with Luca on her side, she’s got a better chance of succeeding.
Luca walks up the short path towards me. He’s smiling. I open my arms as he approaches. He stands on the step below mine and snuggles up against me; his head is on my chest.
“So I’m forgiven?” I ask, resting my chin on the top of his head.
“For accusing me of stalking?”
“Well, I have been crushing on you for months, so I kind of was, wasn’t I?” He lifts his head and kisses me.
I suspect that Luca and I will also be in for a rough ride when his parents find out about us. But, hopefully, Fio will be on our side to help smooth the waters.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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