Authors: Demelza Watts
s much as
she wanted to push him away, to tell him to get the hell away from her, she found herself leaning against him, comforted and drawn in by his strength.
“What are you doing?” She whispered, her back still pressed up against him as he held onto her.
He stayed silent, only pulling away when she extracted herself from his grasp.
“Let’s sit down, Mia.” He spoke softly but his voice was full of authority. She turned to look at him, nodding slightly whilst noticing the unspoken anguish, which was alive and glowing in his eyes.
For the second time, she made her way to the sofa, taking her seat opposite him.
“Tell me what’s going on, Gino.” She forced herself to ask the question, which could break her. “Is it true? Are you really getting married?”
His grey eyes became flat as he considered her question.
“It’s complicated, Mia.”
“Complicated? It’s always complicated with you, Gino. I’m sick of your excuses.” His eyes widened at her outburst. “Tell me the truth!” She heard the bitterness spill over into her voice, but didn’t care as she glared at him.
“Yes. It’s true.” His voice was filled with misery and he ran a hand through his short hair. Mia gasped out loud, the finality of the statement hitting her hard. She felt her eyes fill up with fresh tears and she quickly looked away. “But it’s for all the wrong reasons, Mia, I swear to you.”
She clenched her hand until her nails dug into her palm. Mixed feelings surged through her and her mind reeled in confusion at his statement. “I don’t understand.”
“I know. Let me explain properly. Please, I need you to understand. You of all people.” He pleaded with her and sank to his knees by her feet. She nodded in answer.
“If you recall, I wanted to speak with you the night of your mother’s birthday, three months ago.”
“Yes, but I was so caught up with the guests…”
“I know, that’s fine. I was going to tell you that night that I couldn’t bear to be without you for a moment longer. God knows, I’ve tried to protect you and stay away but…I just couldn’t live any longer without you by my side.”
Mia snapped her gaze to him. “What do you mean by
?” She used air quotes.
He sighed deeply and sat back on his feet. “Mia, you know the rumours about my father? I just couldn’t bear to bring the one person I care about more than anything in the world, into our family.”
“But, Gino, why? I mean, yes, I’ve heard the stories, but why do you think he’d do anything to me?”
“It’s not that he would, Mia. I guess I didn’t want to tarnish you with my family name. I’ve tried to stay away from you for so long, but each year, I’ve watched you blossom and become more beautiful. I was hoping to speak with you that night to see if you would consider dating me.”
His eyes became misty and he looked away, his face clouding over with a frown. Mia sat back on the sofa, shocked at his confession. Thrilled that he did want her after all, angry that it was now too late.
“It still doesn’t make sense, Gino! So, why are you marrying someone else then if you say you care about me?” Her spirits sank even lower as the hurt and longing lay naked in her eyes.
“After that night, I went to see my father to tell him of my intentions towards you.” He looked away, picturing the scene. “The house was empty, but I could hear voices coming from his study and I ended up eavesdropping on his conversation.” His face hardened. “Let’s just say that he was in the middle of another dirty deal.”
Mia’s mouth opened in dismay. “What did you do?”
“I walked away, Mia. The next day, I flew back to London.”
“Yes, I remember because I tried to call you at home and your maid said that you had returned to London.”
“I had to get away, Mia. Also, I was still embroiled in my last project, which had kind of taken over my life. Then I started second guessing myself.” His eyes darkened in pain. “I could see how well you were doing and I wasn’t sure you would want to be associated with the Rossi name.”
“Gino, that would have been my choice.” She closed her eyes, her heart aching.
“I know, Mia. That’s something I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life.”
She opened her eyed. “So what else?”
“A couple of months ago, we had a staff night out. I wasn’t in the mood to go, as all I could think about was you.” He paused briefly. “In the end I decided to go and drown my sorrows in a few drinks.” Mia felt her throat tighten and she picked up her glass of water to swallow the despair in her throat.
“There was this woman there. I knew she was coming onto me and I was getting more and more drunk by the hour. By the end of the evening, everywhere I looked, all I could see was your face. And this woman? She wouldn’t give up.” He looked down and his face was twisted with regret. Mia felt her breath quicken and the blood began to pound in her temples.
“What happened, Gino?”
“I slept with her, Mia. I didn’t even recall it or even her name. I just wanted someone to fill the void that you had left me with.” He paused again. “A few weeks ago, she got in contact with me. She told me she’s pregnant.”
“What?” She felt ice spreading through her body as she backed away from him, into the sofa. A raw and primitive grief overwhelmed her. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure, Mia. I may have been really drunk, but I always make sure to use protection. She told me the condom had split.”
Mia’s head snapped back as her mouth opened in a silent scream. She felt sick.
“And you’re marrying her?” Her voice cracked. She couldn’t bear to look him in the eye.
“I have to, Mia. When she’s further along. I won’t have a bastard child brought into this world.”
Mia nodded silently. She forced herself to swallow the lump in her throat and quickly stood up.
“I think you need to leave, Gino.” She spoke softly, the reality of the situation crashing down all over her fractured heart. She would never have her chance with him now. It was over.
He stood up to his full height and reached out a hand to her, slowly moving forward. “I’m so sorry, Mia.” Tears had formed in his eyes and he rapidly blinked them away. “I’m so sorry for what I’ve done to us.”
Mia spun around, anger taking the place of her grief. “
” she shouted. “There never was an us, Gino. Because you were too damn scared. And now there’ll never be an
He winced at her words, harsh with anger and emotion.
“Get out, Gino.” She walked to the door and flung it open, refusing any eye contact.
Gino stood still for a moment, but then slowly picked up his jacket. He paused right next to her, but she kept her eyes lowered. “I fucked up, Mia. Really, badly. This is a mistake I’m going to have to live with for the rest of my life. Please, don’t hate me.” He slowly walked past her. “Besides, you couldn’t hate me more than I hate myself.”
Mia sucked in a quick breath, her hand frozen on the door. She had no more words as she watched him walk away.
he next couple
of days flew by in a blur. Mia went through the motions at her studio, fully in control of her work and designs, but operating at a robotic level. She barely slept, images flooding her mind of what could have been if only Gino hadn’t been so protective of her. She cried herself to sleep each night, pain wrenching through her at the thought of another woman carrying his child.
She promised Amber she would visit her, so on Wednesday night, she went to her flat in Clapham, immediately following work.
She plastered on a bright smile when she saw Amber standing at the door.
“Ciao, Amber!” They greeted each other with a quick hug.
“Come in, Mia.” Amber looked at Mia’s gaunt face with concern.
“Hi Beth.” Mia walked in and greeted Beth as she took a seat, sinking back into the sofa and momentarily closing her eyes. She tucked her hair behind her ears, sighing deeply. “What a week so far.”
Beth scooted closer to Mia. “Mia, are you okay?” She lightly squeezed her hand. “You don’t look so good, hun.”
Mia opened her eyes and looked at the two pairs of concerned eyes looking at her intently. She wanted to pretend that she was okay, but knew that they wouldn’t buy it. Plus, she agreed with Beth; she didn’t look or feel good.
“I don’t know what to say.” She shrugged her shoulders, glancing at her nails. The deep red polish she had on had started to chip. One of her pet peeves. She smiled, turning her attention to the ceiling. “The guy I’ve been in love with for the past ten years, perhaps more, is getting married to someone else. Someone he barely knows because of one crappy mistake.” She shook her head and, spying the wine glass Amber had set before her, she picked it up and took a large gulp. “Thanks, Amber. I needed this.” Setting the glass down carefully on the table, she continued. “You know the worst part? Turns out he’s supposedly been in love with me all this time too.” She laughed miserably as Beth and Amber glanced at each other. Amber spoke first.
“He said that?”
“Yep. Sorry, I know I didn’t go into much detail on my text, but I was trying to understand and get to grips with all this myself.”
“Don’t be silly, no need to apologise. So you said that he’s marrying this woman now?”
“Apparently so, but he said not until she is much further along.”
“That’s so shitty. Why does he have to marry her, for God’s sake?” Beth shook her head, annoyed.
“Beth, it’s the way of our Italian men.” She sighed. “Family first and all that. He said he didn’t want a bastard child.”
“Don’t I know,” Amber muttered beneath her breath. Nico had already twice proposed, but she was still relenting.
“It’s different with you and Nico, Amber. I know you guys genuinely love each other. I’ve never seen my brother happier in his life.” Amber flushed, a smile playing on her lips. “With Gino, it just sucks because he’s marrying her out of obligation.”
“I’m so sorry, Mia. I can’t imagine what you’re going through. I don’t know why, but it just doesn’t sit right with me.” Beth shook her head. “You said he was drunk, right? And the condom split?”
“That’s what he said.”
“Hmmm. Well. I don’t know. My gut tells me that something’s off.”
“You’re very sweet, Beth,” Mia smiled at her friend, “and I really appreciate your support, but I just have to face facts. We’ll never be together.” Her eyes filled with tears and she quickly brushed them away. “I need to get my shit together and move on from Gino Rossi once and for all.”
The girls were silent for a few moments until Amber sat up, smiling.
“Okay, you may not want to do this straight away, but when you’re ready, I have the perfect distraction for you.” She grinned, excited at the plan forming in her head. “So, there’s this single guy at work, he’s total eye candy and really charming as well — I just know you two would hit it off. Let me set you two up on a date. If nothing else, you’ll have a great laugh. What do you think? Will you agree?”
Mia laughed at Amber’s excitement. She thought for a moment. “You know what, Amber? Ordinarily, I’d never agree to a blind date, but you only live once. Right? So, what the hell! You’re right. I haven’t dated in months and I could really do with the distraction.”
Amber’s face split into a wide grin and she high-fived Beth. “Atta girl! Let me see what I can do.”
couple of days later
, Mia sat at the table, picking at her food whilst trying to look interested in the story Nico was telling her. She thought she was nodding and smiling at the appropriate time.
“Mia, have you been listening to a word I’ve been saying?”
“What? Uh, yes, sorry, Nico. Yes, I uh, agree about um…” She flushed, obvious to the fact that she really didn’t have a clue about what Nico was talking about. “Sorry. I guess I haven’t been listening.” She placed her fork down and pushed her plate forward.
“What’s going on, Mia?” Nico took a sip of his sparkling water, glaring at her. “I’ve barely heard from you all week. I’ve asked Amber, but she tells me it’s your story to tell. You look thinner and you just don’t seem your usual self. So spill.”
“Nico, it’s nothing…” She trailed off, unsure how to tell Nico.
“Camilla. You’re my baby sister. I can see you’re hurting.” He reached across the table to pat her hand. “I’m not stupid.” He paused. “I know something’s going on with you and Gino.” His voice was low and dominant, demanding her reply.
Mia considered her answer carefully. She wasn’t sure how much Gino had already told him but she took a guess. “I take it you know about Gino?”
Nico was quiet for a moment, using the napkin to dab the corners of his mouth. “If you’re referring to his situation with that woman, then, yes. I know.”
She nodded silently, looking down at her folded hands on her lap.
“But what’s going on with you two?” He took another sip of his drink, carefully considering his words. “I’ve never seen Gino so… broken. Same with you.”
Mia snapped her eyes to his. “It’s a long story, Nico.”
“So, try me.” He smiled, looking at his watch. “I’ve got another two hours before my next meeting.”
Mia chewed her lip. She decided it was no use to tell him anything but the truth for he knew her too well. “Gino and I have had feelings for each other for a long time.” She spoke softly. “At mamma’s party, he was trying to tell me that he wanted us to start dating.”
Nico nodded, silently waiting for her to continue. “After the party, he went home, but overheard his father discussing a business deal which wasn’t totally legit.”
Nico raised his eyebrow. “Hmmmm, doesn’t surprise me, unfortunately.”
“So afterwards, Gino had a change of heart and decided that he didn’t want me to be associated with him in that way — with the Rossi name. He implied that he was doing it for my own good.”
“I see.” Nico exhaled and sat back in his chair, thinking it over. “And I take it, this woman was a rebound effect?”
“Yes…so he says.” Mia’s voice cracked and she felt the sting of tears at the back of her eyes. “It’s not fair, Nico.”
Nico’s face softened in sympathy as he looked at his younger sister. “If I’m really honest, Mia, I guess I’ve known it for some time too. It’s so obvious now when I look back. Hell, he’s been looking out for you since you were a kid. He’s always kept an eye out for you. I was stupid not to make the connection.”
Mia brushed away a few tears that escaped and ran down her cheeks. “Si. Yes, he has. But it’s too late now, Nico. It’s over before it ever began.”
“I’m so sorry, Mia. This has all come as a bit of a shock to everyone.” He shook his head, angry at the hand of fate drawn to them.
“It’s okay, Nico. I just have to try and move on.”
“Does he love you?”
She nodded and she heard him swear under his breath. “I guess I don’t need to ask you the same question.”
Mia felt the heat spread across her cheeks, which was answer enough for him. They drank their water in silence and later after Nico finished dessert, Mia tried to change the topic to lighter subjects.
“So, Amber says she’s going to set me up on a blind date.”
“She said that?” Nico smiled and then started laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“Just the idea of you on a blind date. I don’t think I’ve ever been on one myself.”
“I know…me neither. But Amber swears he’s eye-candy and hot.”
Nico raised his hands. “Enough. I’m not sure I like the idea of my soon-to-be fiancé talking about another man like that.”
“Oh Nico, relax. You two are crazy about each other.” She smiled, content and happy that her brother had found his true love. “So, is everything still going ahead for the Christmas proposal?”
“Yes.” He scowled. “This had better be my third time lucky.”
Mia laughed. “She’s certainly keeps you on your toes, Nico. But I think she’ll agree this time — I swear she looks at you like you’re her entire world.”
Nico smirked, but she could tell he was pleased at the compliment. “She and the bambino are my entire world too.” His voice was filled with pride and love.
She pushed back her chair and excused herself to visit the bathroom where she critically examined her face in the mirror. She normally held her light tan throughout the Winter season, but her reflection said otherwise. Looking pale and drawn, she quickly reapplied her make-up, adding blush to her cheeks to give her some much-needed colour. Next, she ran a brush through her long hair and, somewhat satisfied with the improvement, she adjusted her cream blouse and then headed back to the table.
She halted. Shocked, she felt the hairs rising on the back of her neck. Green clashed with grey as her eyes locked with Gino. Blinking a few times, she composed herself and drew a deep breath to even her pounding heart whilst slowly walking in his direction. He was standing and talking with Nico and she noted an anxious expression on his face as his eyes darted nervously to the entrance.
Nico stood up as she approached and immediately took her elbow, leading her away. “Nico! What are you doing?” She shrugged her arm out of his grip as she looked at both of them in confusion.
“Let’s go, Mia.”
“I’ll go when I’m ready, thank you.” She forced her lips to curve in a stiff smile. “Hi, Gino.”
“Hey, Mia.” His grey eyes were flat and, with the dark circles surrounding them, it implied that was also suffering from lack of sleep. He ran his hands through his hair and looked away.
The waiter approached their table at that same moment. Walking alongside him was a smiling tall blonde woman, who at first glance looked to be around the same age as Gino.
“Gino! There you are, honey. Sorry, I had to take that call. Mother is in full wedding planning mode.” She grinned at him, as she slid her arm possessively into his, whilst checking out Mia.
Mia felt the bile rise up in the back of her throat. She quickly looked at Gino for his reaction and saw his face darken with anger. Pursing his lips, he glowered at her, speaking through gritted teeth. “We haven’t even set a date yet.”
“Oh, I know, sweetie.” She laughed and waved her hand dismissively at him. “She’s just so excited for the baby.” She glanced at Nico and Mia. “Oh, are these your friends?” Before either could answer, she stuck out her hand. “Hi, I’m Louise.”
Recovering first, Nico politely shook her hand. “Nico, and this is my sister, Camilla.”
Mia plastered a smile on her face. She noted the way Louise was holding on tightly to Gino’s arm as she quickly scanned her outfit, consisting of jeans, which appeared to be a size too small and an equally tightly fitted mohair jumper. She had finished off her ensemble with towering heels so that she almost came up to Gino’s chin. Mia wondered how the foetus could even breathe in there. Her floral scent was overpowering which added to Mia’s nausea.
“Nice to see you both. If you’ll excuse us, we were just leaving.” Nico nodded slightly at Gino.
“Oh darling, that’s a shame.” She pouted as she turned to Gino. “I’d love to spend time with your friends and get to know everyone.” She flashed them a smile. “He’s so secretive, you know.”
“Sure, we’ll get together sometime.” Nico placed his hand on Mia’s back, leading her away from the table. “Gino, we’ll speak later, I’m sure. Good to meet you, Louise.” He smiled politely, giving Mia a slight nudge to get her moving.
“Bye. Enjoy your lunch.” She surprised herself with how clear and neutral her voice sounded. She could feel Gino’s eyes burning into her, but she held her head high and walked around them, refusing any eye contact with him.
“Okay, toodles!” Louise gave a little wave. “We’ll try to arrange dinner or something soon.”
Mia and Nico walked out onto the street and she finally took a deep breath, fanning herself at the same time. She closed her eyes and swallowed a few times to get rid of the undertones of bile at the back of her throat.
“I’m sorry you had to see that. Are you okay?”
“I’m okay now, Nico. It was inevitable that I’d see them together sooner or later.” She hugged her brother. “Don’t worry about me. I’m a big girl.” She smiled. “I can take care of myself.”
“You’ll always be my baby sis.” He looked at her tenderly. “Want me to ride back to your studio with you?”
“No, I’m fine. Honestly.” She smiled.
Keep telling yourself that,
she thought, hoping that if she said it often enough, it would be self-fulfilling. They turned to go their separate ways, but Nico had barely made it a few feet away when she called out to him.
He immediately stopped and walked back in her direction. “What’s wrong, Mia?” He searched her eyes.
“It’s nothing. Sorry.”
Nico closed the gap and used his finger to gently lift her chin until she made eye contact. “What’s wrong?”
“Why is he taking her to lunch? At our favourite restaurant?” She spoke in almost a whisper, unable to keep the hurt out of her voice.
Nico frowned. “Gino was telling me when you were in the bathroom that he must have mentioned to her at some stage that this is one of our collective and preferred restaurants. Apparently, she insisted on coming here.”
Mia snorted as her eyes stung. “Today of all days. Well, it’s tarnished now. She’s ruined it.”
She held her hand up, giving him a watery smile. “Bye big bro. Talk later. Love you.” She gave him a quick peck on both cheeks and then hailed a passing cab.
a few hours working at the studio on Beth’s dress. Her fabric had arrived and she was looking forward to throwing herself into work. Thankfully, her mind was occupied for most of the time, but every now and then the dark thoughts of Gino and Louise would fill her mind and she would have to stop work and compose herself.
a bottle of wine on the way home and as soon as she was back, she popped the cork and drank a glass straight down. One glass turned into two, then into three by which time she was feeling really light headed. She poured her fourth glass and lifted an imaginary toast to Gino and Louise, bursting out laughing. Pulling out her phone and through her blurry vision, she signalled Amber.
“Hey Mia. How are you?” Amber’s voice filled the phone and Mia blinked a couple of times, trying to gain some focus.
“Amb! Oh Amb, am I gla…glad I dialled you instead of the sperm donor.” She burst out laughing at her joke, slightly swaying against the counter top.
“Mia? Are you okay? You sound drunk?”
Mia giggled into the phone. “You know what, Amb? I met the biatch today…she’s totally got her claws into my Gino. And she said
. What the hell is
?” She burst out laughing again.
There was silence on the other end. “Abs, Ambs, are you there?” Mia pulled her phone away from her ear, squinting her eyes as she checked the display.
“I’m here, Mia.” She spoke softly. “I’m sorry you had to meet her that way. Nico told me earlier what happened…”
All of a sudden, Mia felt her throat constrict. Her eyes filled up with tears and a gut-wrenching sob escaped her mouth.
“Mia! Mia! Talk to me!”
She grabbed a tissue and dabbed her eyes. “I’m okay, I’m okay. I promise…I need your help though.” She took a few deep breaths to get her breathing under control.
“Anything, Mia. What can I do?”
“The date?” Mia slurred her words.
“What, date, hun?”
“That guy at work. Please, get me that date. I need to move on from Gino.”
“Oh, you mean, Jonathan? The one I told you was hot eye-candy?”
“It will be my pleasure, Mia. When I’m back in on Monday, I’ll set it up. I promise you, you’ll have a great time with him.”
A few minutes later, they hung up. Mia drunkenly made her way to her bedroom and, slipping off her shoes, she collapsed onto the bed. For once, sleep came easily.